February 22nd, 2011
07:00 AM ET
Brain scans may someday detect autism
Researchers are hoping that by using a common tool for measuring of brain activity in a new way, they may be one step closer to identifying whether a child is a greater risk for autism.
"We haven't diagnosed autism at this point," says William Bosl, Ph.D., lead author and a research scientist at Children's Hospital Boston. But he says by using an electroencephalogram and new, sophisticated computer programs to analyze the EEGs, he and his co-authors were able to correctly identify with 80% accuracy, which babies were at higher risk for autism and which were not.
Scientists have known for quite some time now that the earlier a child with autism gets therapy, the easier it is to improve language and behavioral skills. In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children be screened for autism at the ages of 18 months and 24 months. Here researchers are trying to find markers for autism before a child begins showing signs of autism.
In a new study published Tuesday in the journal BMC Medicine, scientists studied 79 infants. 46 babies had a brother or sister with known autism, which means they themselves are at an increased risk for the neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about one in 110 children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sibling of a child with a confirmed diagnosis of autism has a 1 in 5 chance of also developing the disorder. These infant siblings were compared with 33 infants with no known family history of autism.
The babies were given EEG's at 6, 9, 12, 18 and 24 months of age. Researchers strapped a net of 64 electrodes all over a baby's head while it was sitting in its mom's lap and a research assistant was blowing bubbles to hold the child's attention. The electrodes measured actual firings of neurons. The EEG technique is much easier to use because the baby can be awake and moving and wiggling around, says Dr. Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, which partially funded this research. Other brain imaging technologies like magnetic resonance imaging would require a baby to be asleep or sedated because they have to be completely still while the test is being done. "Nobody wants to sedate a healthy infant," says Dawson.
Bosl explains that the new computer algorithms that he developed were able to analyze results of the EEG much better than in the past. He said that, judging by the differences in brain activity, he and his colleagues could detect which babies were in the high-risk group. They say they were nearly 100% accurate when the boys were 9 months old. They were most accurate with baby girls at age 6 months. Overall, the biggest differences in brain activity were seen at 9 months – which is much earlier than when a child typically shows behavioral problems associated with autism. The differences in brain activity were smaller as the babies got older.
Doctors and scientists not connected to the study are intrigued by the results but caution that this is very early research and not something concerned parents can be looking for as a screening tool for their babies any time soon.
Sarah Paterson, Ph.D., is the director of the neuroimaging lab at the Center for Autism Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is also looking for early signs of autism as part of the Infant Brain Imaging Study, but her work focuses on differences in brain structure. Paterson says that if the results out of Boston can be confirmed, "It's very exciting because finding an early sign for autism is really the holy grail." But she cautions that a lot more work needs to be done. "This study needs to be replicated by their lab and independent scientists," she says.
Dr. Max Wiznitzer says the researchers have found a "really fascinating technique, that offers a different way to look at the brain." Wiznitzer – a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio – notes that what the study can't tell us is what the differences in brain activity between the two groups of babies actually mean. He, too, is hopeful that further research will provide more concrete information.
Bosl says the first children enrolled in his study are now at 2 and 3 years old, which is the age when autism usually is diagnosed. This will now allow the researchers to evaluate them for autism and then look back at the brain activity patterns of the children who do fit the clinical criteria for autism.
Bosl acknowledges that if this is very early research, but he believes if the results are confirmed, it may lead to a safe and inexpensive way to detect autism, which would allow intervention before any autistic behaviors appear.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
I used to be able to find good advice from your articles.
Every weekend i used to go to see this site, because i
want enjoyment, for the reason that this this site conations in fact fastidious funny data too.
Itís nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people for this subject, however, you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks
You're so cool! I do not suppose I've read anything like that before. So nice to find somebody with a few unique thoughts on this issue. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that's needed on the internet, someone with some originality!
You are so awesome! I do not believe I've truly read anything like this before. So great to discover someone with a few unique thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This website is something that is required on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!
Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Thank you for supplying these details.
I truly love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you build this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím attempting to create my very own site and would love to learn where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Thank you!
Excellent site you have here.. Itís difficult to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate people like you! Take care!!
Having read this I thought it was really enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!
Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to generate a great articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I hesitate a whole lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.
I love it when folks come together and share thoughts. Great blog, stick with it!
A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I believe that you ought to write more about this topic, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people do not speak about such subjects. To the next! Cheers!!
Great article! We are linking to this particularly great article on our website. Keep up the good writing.
This web site definitely has all of the info I needed about this subject and didnít know who to ask.
I'm extremely pleased to discover this great site. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every little bit of it and I have you book marked to check out new stuff on your blog.
Great info. Lucky me I recently found your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!
You should take part in a contest for one of the finest websites online. I most certainly will recommend this website!
Great information. Lucky me I found your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!
Having read this I believed it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!
When I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment. Is there a way you can remove me from that service? Kudos!
I wanted to thank you for this fantastic read!! I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. I have got you book marked to check out new stuff you postÖ
You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the finest blogs online. I'm going to recommend this website!
Excellent blog you've got here.. Itís hard to find high-quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!
Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am experiencing problems with your RSS. I donít understand why I am unable to join it. Is there anyone else getting the same RSS issues? Anybody who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!
Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and also the rest of the site is extremely good.
Excellent site you have got here.. Itís difficult to find high quality writing like yours these days. I truly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!