18 Mar 2017

Science news: testing for autism and a new treatment for tumours

From This Way Up, 12:30 pm on 18 March 2017

A blood test for autism is picking up biochemical markers that are significantly altered in autistic patients; and testing is underway on a new approach to treating brain tumours.

Blood test

Photo: Rafe Swan Image Source

A biochemical test for autism has been developed by a team of scientists working in the US. 

According to Dr Chris Smith, the 1 percent of children diagnosed with autism and "autism spectrum disorders" struggle in social situations, find communication a challenge, may have behavioural problems and frequently fall behind at school. 

At the moment there's no biochemical test for the condition. A diagnosis can only be made clinically by a specialist assessing a child, and in practice this means that most diagnoses are made after a potential chance at early therapeutic intervention is lost.

Writing in PLoS Computational Biology, Juergen Hahn from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the US could diagnose autism with accuracy rates of about 97 percent using a blood test to identify a range of biochemical markers that showed significant changes in autistic patients.

"We can use this set of markers to pick up potential cases much earlier," Professor Hahn said, although it's still not clear if these biochemical markers will be present from birth."