Diagnosing autism could soon be much simpler, with researchers saying this week that they’ve developed a blood test that appears to identify those with the disorder even before symptoms are apparent.
The early-stage test developed at Boston Children’s Hospital may be able to flag about two-thirds of those with autism, researchers reported in the journal PLOS ONE.
Currently, clinicians rely on observation to screen children for autism. Most kids are not diagnosed until after age 4, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But a blood test offers the promise of flagging kids and potentially enrolling them in early intervention programs even before symptoms appear.
In order to develop the test, researchers analyzed blood samples from 66 boys with autism and 33 without the developmental disorder in an effort to establish patterns. Ultimately, the scientists were able to focus on a group of 55 genes that they used to successfully identify autism with 68 percent accuracy in a second test group made up of 104 people with autism and 82 controls.
“It’s clear that no single mutation or even a single pathway is responsible for all cases,” said Isaac Kohane of Boston Children’s Hospital who worked on the research. “By looking at this 55-gene signature, which can capture disruptions in multiple pathways at once, we can say with about 70 percent accuracy, ‘this child does not have autism,’ or ‘this child could be at risk,’ putting him at the head of the queue for early intervention and evaluation. And we can do it relatively inexpensively and quickly.”
The blood test is not yet ready for prime time, researchers said, but it has been licensed to the company SynapDx for further exploration and potential commercialization.