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Scientists seek early signs of autism

Biomarkers could aid diagnosis and lead to strategies for treatment

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7:00am, April 10, 2017
rapidly growing baby brains

EXPANDING BRAIN  High-risk babies — younger siblings of a child with autism — who will be diagnosed with autism themselves had more rapid growth in parts of their brains than low-risk babies who will not later get an autism diagnosis. Darker colors indicate a bigger difference in growth rate. 

Soon after systems biologist Juergen Hahn published a paper describing a way to predict whether a child has autism from a blood sample, the notes from parents began arriving. “I have a bunch of parents writing me now who want to test their kids,” says Hahn, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. “I can’t do that.”

That’s because despite their promise, his group’s results, reported March 16 in PLOS Computational Biology, are preliminary — nowhere close to a debut in a clinical setting. The test will need to be confirmed and repeated in different children before it can be used to help diagnose autism. Still, the work of Hahn and colleagues, along with other recent papers, illustrates how the hunt for a concrete biological signature of autism, a biomarker, is gaining speed.

Currently, pediatricians, child

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