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June 2011



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Published on Wednesday 22 June 2011 21:40

“A foolproof test for autism in adults and children is “a major step” closer,” The Daily Telegraph has reported. The newspaper says that the new brain scan “can detect the condition with almost 100 per cent accuracy”.

The news is based on research that compared brain scans of 30 male children and adults with high-functioning autism with 30 matched males with the same IQ but typical development. Scientists found that using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to examine enhanced details of brain cell fibre patterns allowed them to detect subtle structural differences in the brains of the two groups, specifically within two areas associated with language and social cognition. When they concentrated on six characteristic differences the scientists were able correctly to identify a person with autism 93.6% of the time and to identify individuals without autism correctly 89.6% of the time.

Although this research is a useful preliminary step in finding a biological measure that can distinguish between autistic individuals and typically-developing individuals, further research is needed to see whether these findings apply to a broader group of people with autism, such as those with more severe autism, women and younger children.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School and was funded by The National Institutes of Health in the US. It was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Autism Research.

The research was covered accurately by The Daily Telegraph, although further validation is required before this method could be used as a clinical test. The Daily Mail reported that a brain scan has been developed that could “diagnose autism in children in just ten minutes”, allowing the condition to be detected at a much younger stage so children could begin therapy and treatment before they start school. This research only conducted MRI scans on individuals over seven years of age, including fully grown adults. Therefore, it is not possible to say whether this technique would be able to detect autism in younger individuals as successfully as conventional methods.

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