Written By Loren Grush for Fox News
As of today, there are no definitive tests to measure a child’s risk for developing autism. Since early intervention and therapy is key for at-risk children, such a test could be critical for managing the early development of a child.
Now, researchers at Yale School of Medicine and the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis say they have found a safe and effective way to measure a newborn’s risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – by looking at his or her placenta.
In a new study published in the online issue of Biological Psychiatry, senior author Dr. Harvey Kliman and his colleagues examined abnormal placental folds and cell growths called trophoblast inclusions, which acted as effective biomarkers for predicting which children were at risk for developing ASD.
“There are no methods at birth to diagnose this at all. Period,” Kliman, a research scientist in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale, told FoxNews.com. “The only advanced notice that a family might have a child with autism spectrum disorder is that they have a previous child (with autism) – which is sort of unfair, because it’s a high price to pay.”
One out of every 50 children is diagnosed with autism in the United States each year, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, most children are diagnosed with ASD at the age of 3 or 4 – long after their first year of life, when early intervention can be the most effective.
A serendipitous discovery
Kliman said he wasn’t originally looking to develop an autism test, and he stumbled upon the placenta connection “totally by accident.” When he first started working at Yale, his main job was to examine the tissue of lost pregnancies – to better determine why the baby didn’t make it. A main component of the tissues he analyzed were the chorionic villi found in the placenta.
Chorionic villi are tiny, finger-like structures that help transport blood between the mother and the developing fetus.