Autism is a childhood mental condition that affects language skills, social behavior, and actions or behaviors that get repeated over time. Such behaviors are observable when the child reaches 2 years old and this leads to the diagnosis of the condition. Recently, a medical breakthrough in detecting the probability of having autism in a child in the future has been introduced through the use of MRI scan.
A study published in Science Translational Medicine introduces the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in 6-month-old to reveal how the different regions of the brain are connected and synchronized. Eventually, these images will be able to predict the babies who are at high risk of developing autism by the time they reach 2 years old.
The research was able to highlight the presence of the second type of brain biomarker as early as 6-month-old and will be used as part of the diagnostic toolkit in determining if the child will have autism even before the symptoms starts to appear.
The study involved examining the neural activity of the 230 different brain regions of babies. From these images, the researchers were able to detect how various brain regions were synchronized with each other. Synchronous brain regions are indications of coordinated brain activities that are critical for cognition, memory, and behavior.
Researchers were then able to develop a computer program called Machine Lister Classifier which will be sorting through the variances in synchronization of the mentioned key brain regions.
Participants in this research study were 59 babies with an older sibling with autism. Genetics play a role in the development of autism, so with this, it is expected that there is about one baby who will develop autism in every five babies in the study. Later on, it was known that eleven of the 59 babies went on to develop autism.
The computer program successfully predicted babies who would later meet the criteria for autism at two years of age using the MRI data.
Implications of the study
Prevention is better than a pound of cure. This is an old time saying that it is better to undergo steps in preventing a medical condition to develop from happening. In the case of autism, detection as early as 6-month-old is considered an achievement. This will allow clinicians and health professionals identify and plan treatment to improve outcomes.
For parents, this study will provide an emotional stability or assurance if their children have a lesser chance of developing autism in later life. For parents whose children have a high risk of developing autism, the diagnosis may be devastating, however, it will help the parents prepare for the medical treatment that children should receive and as early as it is detected, the chances of having a positive outcome is also highly achievable.
As senior author Joseph Piven, MD, the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine, and director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, reported, “The more we understand about the brain before symptoms appear, the better prepared we will be to help children and their families.”