SAN DIEGO — The University of California, San Diego is seeking 400 families to participate in a study that will test whether it is possible to predict if a newborn is at risk for developing autism before symptoms appear, allowing for early treatment and potentially preventing a disorder that doesn’t have a cure.

The study is open to California families who are willing to give UCSD permission to analyze dried and stored spots of blood from samples that were collected from their child shortly after birth.

California collects a few drops of blood from all newborns, stores them on filter paper, then screens them for scores of genetic and congenital disorders.

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Scientists say that the blood samples might contain “tell-tale” molecules and chemicals that indicate that the child is at risk for developing autism spectrum disorder, sometimes called ASD for short.

“We want to apply a new test that looks at over 1,000 natural chemicals and some man-made chemicals that are present in all of us to see if we can accurately predict when children might be at risk for developing autism,” said Dr. Robert Naviaux, the principal investigator of the UC San Diego Newborn Screening-Autism Risk Study.

The study will pay special attention to how the chemicals and compounds found in the blood interact with genes.

“We see genes and the environment as being absolutely required together to lead to autism spectrum disorder,” Naviaux said. “For that reason, we call ASD an eco-genetic disease. Your ecology and your genes have to interact.”

UCSD says it is seeking participants from the ages of 3 to 10 years old. They must have been born in California and either have a confirmed diagnosis of ASD from a licensed clinician, or be a healthy child not taking any prescription medications. The study will take 200 participants from each group.

The child also must have been born after a normal term pregnancy of 37 to 42 weeks, and have not had a medical issue that required readmission to the hospital in the first month of life, the university said.

UCSD also says it will require a child’s parents to answer questionnaires that cover pregnancy, labor and delivery, the child’s health history, and that of the family. The study will not require new blood or behavioral tests.

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