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Physicians are studying brain changes in children with ASA
Researchers have now found that using MRI scans can determine whether babies are more likely to develop autism later in life. This type of examination can detect significant changes in the brain at an early stage and indicate a possible disease.
A team of scientists from the University of North Carolina, the University of Minnesota and New York University found that scans of the brains of babies can indicate whether the examined child has autism. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Nature".
Doctors examine about 150 children for the study
In the small study, the experts examined the brains of around 150 children. 106 of the participants appeared to have an increased risk of developing autism. The reason for this was mostly cases of illness in the family history. Autism can even affect several siblings in one family.
Results should be checked in larger studies
The current study found some common signs of unusual brain overgrowth in 15 children aged six and twelve months. In these children, a so-called autism spectrum disorder (ASS) was later diagnosed at the age of 24 months, the experts explain. Unfortunately, the number of participants in the study was very small. If the results could be replicated in larger studies, this could create an effective screening method for children, the scientists speculate.
Children with ASA usually develop negative effects before the age of three
Early signs and symptoms of ASA in preschool children include delayed language development, repetitive behavior, and little interest in interacting with other people, the researchers say. Children with ASA tend to develop problems with social interaction and communication before the age of three.
Brain differences were observed in 15 children
Differences in the MRI brain scans were only found in 15 children out of 148 subjects. The study should show whether ASA in six-month-old children (at high risk of developing the disease) can be identified using brain scans before the first symptoms are discovered, the authors explain.
Subjects were divided into two risk groups
Previous studies have already shown that the social deficits that are characteristic of ASA sometimes arise in early childhood, during the first and second year of life. The children in the study were divided into two groups. One with a high and one with a low risk of ASA, the experts say. Children were at high risk if they had older siblings with clinically diagnosed ASA.
Three brain scans were carried out in the test subjects
The infants were enrolled at six months of age. At the age of twelve and 24 months, the test subjects were examined again, the doctors explain. A brain MRI scan was performed at each of these three times. The images from these examinations were then used to determine brain tissue volume, measurements of the surface of the brain and their cortical thickness, the scientists add. Other tests measured cognitive development, adaptive function, and behaviors associated with autism. The final diagnosis of ASA was then made at the age of 24 months.
What changes could be observed?
The observed changes increased the cortical surface expansion at the age of six to twelve months and the observed brain overgrowth at the age of twelve to 24 months, the experts say. During this time, the appearance of social deficits that were characteristic of the disease was also evident.
More research is needed
The study suggests that changes in the brain may be associated with ASA. MRI scans could be used to enable an earlier diagnosis if the changes found occur in all children with ASA, the authors explain. Further larger studies are now needed to determine this precisely. The results could have an impact on the early detection and intervention of ASA. (as)