Brain Scans May Help Predict Autism In Infants Long Before Symptoms Appear

Brain scans might help predict autism in babies before symptoms appear, that is the finding of a study that scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have been working on for 10 years.

In the first-of-its-kind study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of infants at high risk for autism at 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months of age. The MRI scans were taken on 109 babies who had older siblings with autism and 42 infants with no family history of autism.

Researchers were able to correctly predict 80 percent of those infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 2 years of age. “We see an increased rate of growth in the outer surface of the brain, the folds, the sort of waviness of the surface that’s followed by an overgrowth of the brain in the second year,” senior study author Joseph Piven, M.D., of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told CBS News.

By identifying the brain changes early, there is a huge potential to develop therapies that could help children while the brain is still developing.

“Decreasing the age of diagnosis, even by a couple years, could have profound impacts for the entire lifetime of that particular person,” Mathew Pletcher, vice president and head of genomic discovery at Autism Speaks told NBC News.

“If we can target interventions before autism appears and before the brain changes appear, during a time when the brain is highly malleable or plastic, we can have a bigger impact on the outcome,” Piven said.

Most children who have autism aren’t diagnosed until at least the age of 2 or older.

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