Study reveals possibility to predict autism risk in infants
A study published today in the journal Nature is the first to show that it is possible to predict within the first year of life, whether some infants will go on to develop autism. The ability to identify autism risk during infancy could set the stage for developing very early preventive treatments when the brain is most malleable. Earlier detection also provides opportunities for early treatment- and earlier intervention is known to be associated with better long term outcomes.

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to capture brain images of infants who are considered at high risk for developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by virtue of having an older sibling with ASD. The research team took different measurements of the child's brain at 6 and 12 months of age, including overall volume, surface area and thickness of the cerebral cortex in particular regions. A computer-generated algorithm was used to combine these measurements and was able to predict which babies would develop autism by age two with more than 90 percent accuracy. The Center for Autism Research (CAR) at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)was a major study site in the multicenter research project. The study's lead site was based at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

"The results of this study are a real breakthrough for early diagnosis of autism," said Robert T. Schultz, PhD, who directs the Center for Autism Research and led the CHOP study site. "While we have known for some time that autism emerges in subtle, gradual ways over the first few years of life, this study offers the first firm evidence before a child's first birthday predicting whether certain high-risk children are likely to be diagnosed with autism."