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Advances in biological testing for autism

Advances in biological testing for autism

A new biological test is focussing on blood and urine samples as a potential marker for autism. Developed by researchers at the University of Warwick, the test found higher levels of protein damage in those with the disorder and now hope their study may open the door for earlier detection of the condition.

Autism study at an early stage

Despite the findings, some experts are urging caution as the study is still at an early stage and should not raise hopes. They also point to the small number of children who were involved in the research.

Autism affects behaviour and social interaction and at present can be difficult to identify with no biological test to spot it. Currently, it is a condition which is diagnosed through behavioural assessments by clinicians. One in 100 people in the UK has autism, with more men are diagnosed with it than women.

Latest study focuses on protein damage

The latest study saw researchers look for chemical differences in the blood and urine of 38 autistic children and 31 children without the condition aged between five and 12. Those with autism were found to have higher levels of protein damage, particularly in the blood plasma.

Study leader Dr Naila Rabbani suggested the tests could ultimately be used to diagnose autism earlier in childhood by detecting these markers, though she acknowledged the research was still at an early phase with the next step being to replicate the findings in other groups.

Experts urge caution

UK autism research charity Autistica said that while the study may offer clues about why autistic people are different it felt it did not yet provide a new method for diagnosis.

“It is far too early for that,” said the charity’s director of science, Dr James Cusack. “We don't know whether this technique can tell the difference between autism, ADHD, anxiety or other similar conditions. The study also only looked at a small group of people. The best way to diagnose autism is still through clinical interview and observation.”

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said it was a promising area of research but was a “very long way indeed from a test for autism.”

More studies needed

Early diagnosis of Autism is important as many families have to wait three or four years for a diagnosis. The condition can be diagnosed from the age of two but the average age of diagnosis is four-and-a-half. Autistica says timely diagnosis gives autistic people the best chance in life but should be accompanied by evidence-based support. The research charity stressed that further studies are needed to understand more about the differences reported in this study.

While still at an early stage, the potential test for autism highlights the importance of the work of biomedical scientists in advancing healthcare and the way we diagnose and respond to conditions such as autism.
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