The announcement made by Professor Eric Courchesne on August 7, at Asia-Pacific Autism Conference in Adelaide, Australia, could revolutionise the way Autism is detected and treated in very young children. The test could be rolled out in as little as two years.
The discovery is a result of six years of screening children between the ages of 12 months and 4 years. A total of 600 children were scanned for brain function and bloods were taken in an attempt to isolate the genes marked out for brain development.
The research isolated a number of gene pathways associated with the development of Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), which can be identified in much the same way as the newborn heel prick test detects some genetic abnormalities.
Professor Courchesne, a Director at the Neurological Science Department said: “People have been looking at individual genes. What we’ve found is that it’s how these genes combine in networks and how these networks disrupt brain growth that is a common pathway in autism.For years I’ve wondered what might be the systems that cause autism to come about in the first place, and I have to say, this is a very exciting finding.”
He explained during his speech at the conference that the gene networks they had identified, disrupt the development of an embryos brain during the second trimester of pregnancy. Either too many, or too few of these signal pathways develop over time-causing problems between the communication of cells in the developing brain.
The new test would be able to test for these genetic pathways in children as young as twelve months old.
The news comes in the same week as experts in the University of Cambridge revealed a link between anorexic girls and the symptoms of High Functioning Autistic individuals, as we reported on August 8.