Fetal Brain Scans May Reveal Autism

By: RandyYoumans

  • Around 1 in 44 children with autism are diagnosed by age 8
  • Researchers believe MRI scans can detect differences in brain structure of fetuses, which could indicate that a child may have autism spectrum disorder.
  • The scans are able to detect autism earlier, and parents can begin early intervention programs for their children.
  • Autism spectrum disorder (or neurodevelopmental condition) is a challenge for many children around the world.
  • A new Harvard Medical School study may provide some insight into the disorder prior to a child’s birth.

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Alpen Ortug PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in radiology at Harvard Medical School was able to analyze fetal MRI brain scanners taken at Boston Children’s Hospital. The researchers found brain structures differences in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) children.

Research shows that autism is defined as social and other behavior that isn’t measured in infants. However, research has shown that children who develop autism have brains that are different from those of their peers. This study suggests that some brain changes could be occurring well before birth,” stated Carissa J. Cascio PhD, associate professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Tennessee.

39 MRI brain scans were taken from fetuses at 25 weeks gestation by the research team. Nineteen of the nine children were later diagnosed with ASD. Ten children also had other medical conditions that were common in ASD-afflicted children, but they weren’t formally diagnosed with ASD.

Cascio said that this is an exciting discovery that gives us an idea about very early brain changes in autism spectrum people and places them in a brain region that’s important for sensory and emotional functions that we know are affected by autism.

Researchers discovered that children with ASD had a significantly larger insular brain lobe. Insular cortex, a deep part of the brain that is responsible for motor control, sensory processing and social behavior, is where individuals often need to manage their cognitive functions.

Ortug explained to Healthline that it was remarkable that ASD subjects had insula statically significantly higher than all other control groups. This study was presented at conference, and it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

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Here are the facts about autism

According to the Association for Science in Autism Treatment, autism is a complex disorder that can cause impairments in social interaction, communication, or the presence of repetitive patterns in interest, behaviors, or activities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 44 8-year-old children have been diagnosed with ASD by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

ASD has been increasing in prevalence over the years. In 2008, 1 in 88 people were diagnosed with the condition. Experts don’t believe there has been an increase in autism cases, but instead, they say that there has been a growing awareness and understanding of the diagnosis criteria.

While the exact causes of ASD are not known, it is believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in this condition.

Cascio says, “At the moment, no single marker is able to be used as an indicator of non-genetic autistic behavior in individual babies.”

ASD can often be diagnosed at 18 months of age or less. This condition can be diagnosed by experienced professionals as early as 2 years old. This new research suggests that families might be able to detect ASD earlier and offer treatment and intervention for their child.

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Early identification of autism

This new study is only the first step. However, it provides additional insight into early ASD identifiers.

Ortug stated in a press release that ASD could be caused by many environmental and genetic factors. He also noted that it was possible to detect the early signs of autism in potential patients.

She added, “We believe these results will help us better understand brain development in ASD in the near future and be an early detection biomarker.”

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It is crucial to diagnose ASD early so that individuals can receive early intervention.