A new test for autism is making headlines in the scientific community. The test can reportedly diagnose autism in children from just one strand of hair.
This innovative test, from a start-up called LinusBio, could quickly help identify autism spectrum disorders in young children before symptoms appear. Findings about diagnostic tests are published in the journal Clinical Medicine.
LinusBio co-founder and CEO Manish Arora said: “This provides important information, but it is not the only information.”
In other words, the test is a diagnostic aid, meant to help clinicians identify autism, but should not be relied upon in isolation.
“This technology is incredibly novel. The use of hair and the types of measurements we’re doing with hair is revolutionary,” said Dr. Andrea Vaccarelli, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University., NBC News reported that it was not involved in the company’s research. “It’s groundbreaking.”
Human hair consists of a history of exposure to metals and other substances. This data is analyzed using algorithms to look for specific metallic patterns associated with autism.
This test is the first to analyze this kind of exposure history over time and can accurately predict autism about 81% of the time.
In this test, the hair is irradiated with a laser, turning it into plasma for analysis. According to the CEO, less than half an inch of hair can get him a month’s worth of data.
LinusBio says its test can detect metal metabolism in 4- to 6-hour fractions.
“It’s like having a security camera that can review four photos a day,” says Baccarelli.
For this study, researchers refined their techniques using hair samples from 486 children in three countries: Japan, Sweden, and the United States.
They then analyzed 97 hair samples and the algorithm correctly identified cases of autism spectrum disorder more than 96% of the time. Moreover, the test correctly identified negative cases approximately 75% of the time.
“The problem with autism is that it’s diagnosed at the average age of four. By that time, a lot of brain development has already happened,” Arora said. “We want to be able to intervene early.”
There is currently no biologic test for autism spectrum disorder. Instead, children are often diagnosed after parents discover abnormal behavior such as avoiding eye contact, delayed speech, or not pointing.
To boost the product’s prospects, the Food and Drug Administration gave LinusBio’s test a “breakthrough” designation, according to the outlet. The label is intended to facilitate regulatory approval for new technologies when there are no alternatives on the market. However, the approval criteria remain unchanged and regulatory hurdles must be cleared before the company’s devices can become widespread in the United States.