OCT 03, 2018 6:34 AM PDT

Towards Predicting Autism In Pregnancy

Autism is a growing health concern for medical professionals, educators, patients, and family. The latest numbers from the CDC (2014) put the incidence of autism spectrum disorders at 1 in 59 children in the United States. Autism is considered a spectrum because it presents differently in different patients. Dr. Stephen Shore, an autism specialist, has said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Dr. Juergen Hahn, professor and head of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently collaborated on research with Dr. Jill James at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) into whether or not the risk of autism can be accurately assessed during pregnancy. The study is published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. While many disorders like cardiac issues, Down syndrome, and trisomy 18 can be detected using tests that look for biomarkers, there is no test currently that can predict or even estimate the probability of an expectant mother having a child with an ASD. General numbers for autism risk are presently at 1.7% for the general population, and 18.7% for a mother who has previously had a child with autism. Those numbers are based on math and probability, but researchers are looking for ways to increase the accuracy of risk prediction.

Dr. Hahn explained, “It would be highly desirable if a prediction based upon physiological measurements could be made to determine which risk group a prospective mother falls into.” Finding out as early as possible that a child has autism, or even is just at a higher risk for developing an ASD, allows parents, caregivers and healthcare providers to prepare for the challenges involved in raising a child on the spectrum. Autism is a disorder that often responds well to early intervention, so the sooner it’s discovered, the better the outcomes are for children.

The work on predicting autism risk is part of other research into Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases at the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. In the study, Dr. Hahn’s team looked at metabolites of the folate-dependent transmethylation and transsulfuration biochemical pathways in pregnant women. The metabolite panels of mothers who had children with an ASD were compared to mothers who did have children on the spectrum.

While the study did not find a way to predict which unborn children would be diagnosed with autism by the age of three, it did show differences in plasma metabolites that correlated to the levels of risk that have already been determined. In other words, the mothers who had children with autism and whose risk was assessed at the 18.7% mark had different plasma metabolite levels than the mothers who had not had a child on the spectrum and were at the 1.7% risk level. Hahn summarized the work stating, “These are exciting results as they hint at differences in some metabolic processes that potentially play a role in increasing the risk of having a child with ASD.” Check out the video below to learn more.

Sources: RPI, CDC, PsychCentral

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
NOV 26, 2019
Neuroscience
NOV 26, 2019
Air Pollution Linked to Alzheimer's, Study Finds
Worldwide, 9 in every 10 people breathe highly polluted air. A known contributing factor for many respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer, an increasing ...
NOV 30, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 30, 2019
Depression is Not Caused By Genetics
Since the discovery of DNA, attributing the cause of illnesses to genetic reasons became trendy. Depression was no exception- with hundreds of studies havi...
DEC 20, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 20, 2019
Are Migraines Caused by Unhealthy Gut Bacteria?
Research is increasingly pointing towards the importance of the gut-brain axis in regulating our health. Not only has the health of our gut bacteria, or mi...
JAN 08, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JAN 08, 2020
MicroRNA emerges as a biomarker for migraines
Intense, debilitating pain that can last for days. Nausea, numbness and sensitivity to light. For people who experience migraines, it’s frustrating t...
FEB 07, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 07, 2020
People with Autism have Fewer Fatty Sheaths Between Neurons
Myelin, a fatty substance, accelerates the delivery of electrical signals between neurons in the brain. Now, researchers have found that people with autism...
FEB 11, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 11, 2020
The Gut: Your Second Brain
It turns out, "going with your gut" may be a more scientifically concrete phrase than we thought. The gut actually houses its own nervous system,...
Loading Comments...