Brain scans of the 6-month-old child through Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can study the high risk of autism in them. MRI was carried out for 11 babies out of which 9 of them were diagnosed with the disorder at the age of 24 months, according to the findings published in Science Translational Medicine. This finding gave a clue to the doctor that brain scans may help in detecting the autism. Kevin Pelphrey, director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. said, “This is a game-changer for the field.”
“I think most of the parents would find that really helpful and would want to know that”, says Joseph Piven, Thomas E. Castello Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the lead investigators of the project. Social problems or repetitive behaviors are the signs of autism that characteristically arise at the age of 2 and for most of the students, it is diagnosed around the age of 4. Brain scans would allow doctors to detect autism in infants so that they can start behavioral therapy during the period when their brains are more flexible.
Treatment for autism will usually take place after the atypical brain features have been consolidated. However, if behavioral and pharmacologic interventions start during infancy, they could affect the infant badly. Many of the researchers like Robert W. Emerson, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and John Pruett Jr, MD, PhD, a child psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri carried out an experiment by applying 15-minutes scanning technique called as functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) to 59 sleeping infants at high familial risk because of the presence of an older sibling with ASD.
The researchers observed the brain scans of ‘baby sibs’ – those babies who have an older sibling with autism. Baby sibs are known to have 20 times higher risk of autism than the general population. MRI scans forecast autism with 97 percent accuracy. The traditional brain scans the researchers used were too costly. Affordable and noninvasive methods such as electroencephalography or near-infrared spectroscopy may become a boon for doctors one day.