Prenatal screening for autism- Ethics

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David Cox, a research fellow of neuropsychiatric disorders at Cambridge University has penned an interesting blog post regarding the ethics of prenatal screening for autism.

Autism is thought to be genetic and therefore hereditary, ground breaking work of late has identified certain genes which trigger neurological pathways in the brain at a specific time in an embryos development which could diagnose the onset of autism very early.

But Autism cannot be solely genetic. As Mr Cox explains identical twins can differe in diagnosis with one having autism and the other being neurotypical.

As with the test itself, would it be similar to that for Downs Syndrome which occurs at between 8 and 14 weeks gestation, the test for autism which seems to be likely to be developed in the very near future would test the embryos blood for certain proteins.

Mr Cox writes:

The lack of a concrete theory for autism can hamper the process of diagnosis, because the condition shares a number of overlapping symptoms with other autism spectrum disorders. However, over the past decade, the entire field of neuropsychiatric disorders has undergone something of a revolution with the growing realisation that they are not only conditions of the brain but of the entire body, raising the possibility of detecting them in the blood.”

Simon Baron Cohen, a Doctor and lead author of many research papers into autism and ASD at the University of Cambridge comments:

“The best case use of a prenatal test at the moment would be if you could say to a parent, your child has got an 80% likelihood of autism and so once the baby’s born, we would like to keep a close eye on that child in case they need extra support like speech therapy or social skills training or some sort of behavioural approach,”

“That would mean that there were no potential side effects and you might be able to intervene at a much younger age. So from an ethical point of view, if there was a screening test, using it for early intervention via a psychological approach would be quite risk-free and could carry a lot of benefit.”

If such a test were to be developed fully, how ethical would it be?

The full blog post can be found here.  We welcome your comments on this issue below.

 

 

  • James Arjuna says:

    Why do people avoid the obvious. Infected people have mutated babies.

    We have some 120,000,000 cases of STD’s in the USA and similar statistics all over the “modern” world.

    I have an autistic son and my wife was infected because she has no morals. It is not rocket science.

  • Nevenka says:

    Time to catch up on the science, Shan.

    That ‘autism is thought to be genetic and therefore hereditary’ was debunked in 2011 by Hallmayer et al. twin study, which observed genetic contributions to autism RISK to be around 40%, with environmental contributions at 60%.

    This has just been confirmed by an even larger study by Sandin and colleagues, which put autism etiology as 50% genetic predisposition and 50% environmental.

    So whoever still ‘thinks that autism is genetic and therefore hereditary’ has both his feet firmly in the 20th century still. Time to move on.

    • Shân Ellis says:

      Thanks for your comment. Have you links to the study? I reported on this one recently published in the JAMA, perhaps you would care to take a look :

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23959427

      Also read Mount Sinai’s research on the Shank3 mutation on gene 22 during gestational development. Very interesting.

      We are aware that scientists believe that some environmental factors are also applicable, we have reported here neutrally from another source, to bring you the news. We also reported on the Sandin paper last year, were we running in 2011 we would have also bought you the original 2011 study.

      To agree with you here, I’ve also included a direct quote from Simon Baron Cohen stating autism isn’t 100% genetic. For the full story, here’s the link, please do contact the relevant journalist if you think there is a discrepancy:

      http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/may/01/prenatal-scrrening-test-autism-ethical-implications

      Thanks once again.

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