Jun 9, 2017

Brain scans help to identify autism in infants

Evan Vucci / AP

A new type of brain scan may help physicians diagnose autism in children as young as six months old, reports NBC. In a study of 59 high-risk children, it was able to correctly identify 9 out of 11 children later diagnosed with autism.

Why it matters: Early detection of autism can help parents prepare for their child's development. An October 2016 report found working with parents to better their at-home communication with their children "reduced symptoms in children with severe autism for years". This was the first study of its kind and while researchers at UNC Chapel Hill noted that it has not been proven to work, early detection of autism in high-risk infants would allow the long-term effects to be further studied.

How it works: The team conducting these studies, made up of members at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of North Carolina, looked specifically at brain activity to identify autism. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to look at structural changes in the brains of infants born with autism and functional connectivity MRI identified how regions of the brain communicate with one another during infancy. Together, the scans revealed differences that allowed researchers to correctly identify the nine children later diagnosed with autism.

The limitations: "No one has done this kind of study in six-month-olds before, and so it needs to replicated," Emerson said. "We hope to conduct a larger study soon with different study participants."

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