Brain Scans May Help Diagnose, Treat Autism
Results from a new study suggest that scientists are one step closer to diagnosing and prescribing treatment for autism using a simple brain scan.
Researchers at Stanford University looked at MRI scans of 24 children ages 8 to 18 with autism and 24 without. They found that the part of the brain that focuses on social communication and self-awareness looks different in people with autism as compared to those who are typically developing.
Moreover, the differences in the brain were more pronounced depending on the severity of a child’s autism, according to findings published this week in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
“We are getting closer to being able to use brain-imaging technology to help in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with autism,” said Antonio Hardan, a child psychiatrist at Stanford and a senior author of the study.
Currently, clinicians rely on behavioral assessments to diagnose autism. But in the study, Hardan and his colleagues were able to distinguish between children with and without the developmental disorder with 92 percent accuracy using the brain scans.
Nonetheless, researchers say the scans are not likely to completely replace the current diagnostic approach, but rather to augment it.
If the findings are confirmed in studies of younger children, the research team says that down the line brain scans may be used to predict the type of difficulties that a child with autism will face so that appropriate treatments can start early.
“We hope we’ll eventually be able to tell parents, ‘your child will probably respond to this treatment, or your child is unlikely to respond to that treatment,'” Hardan said. “In my mind, that’s the future.”