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State of (Autism) Innovation-Blood test for autism developed by Troy, N.Y.-based Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

March 13, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

In a preliminary study, a blood test to definitively diagnose autism appears to have an accuracy rate of 98 percent among children aged three to ten, it was reported mid-March.

The experimental blood test at the heart of the small study was developed by the department of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y.

“The test was able to predict autism, regardless of where on the spectrum an individual was,” said study co-author Juergen Hahn, who heads that department at RPI.  “Additionally, the test indicates with very good accuracy the severity of certain autism-related conditions.”

The study was small, involving just 83 children with autism and 76 children without the disorder.

The current standard approach to diagnosing autism typically entails a consensus drawn from a group of medical professionals, including pediatricians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech and language experts.

The new blood test takes a different approach, however, focusing instead on identifying the presence of key metabolism markers.

To test the idea, researchers collected blood samples from all 159 children. The analysis turned out to be nearly flawless in diagnosing autism cases, the researchers said.  It was also more than 96 percent accurate in identifying those children who did not have autism, they added.

In the United States, it’s estimated that 1 in 68 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the term for a range of conditions that may involve problems with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

Prof. Hahn said it remains unclear if the test’s preliminary success would extend to children younger than age three.

“Ideally, one would like to test this on children 18 to 24 months of age,” he told health news outlet MedlinePlus.  “But this has not yet been done, and as such we do not know where the limits are.”

The researcher added that it’s also unknown whether the test might forecast the onset of autism among children who have not yet developed any clinical signs of the disorder.

Other researchers have made related headway.  A study published last month in Nature by researchers at the University of North Carolina reported that brain scans had shown early promise at predicting whether an infant under the age of one might develop autism in the second year of life.

The New York-based findings were published March 16 in PLOS Computational Biology.