Australian scientists develop genetic test to predict autism

CANBERRA Wed Sep 12, 2012 4:52am EDT

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian scientists have developed a genetic test to predict autism spectrum disorder in children, which could provide a long-sought way for early detection and intervention, according to a study published on Wednesday.

About one in 150 children has autism, with symptoms ranging from social awkwardness and narrow interests to severe communication and intellectual disabilities, said researchers led by the University of Melbourne.

The researchers used U.S. data from more than 3,000 individuals with autism in their study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, to identify 237 genetic markers in 146 genes and related cellular pathways.

By measuring these markers, which either contribute to or protect an individual from developing autism, scientists could assess the risk of developing autism.

The risk markers increase the score on the genetic test, while the protective markers decrease the score. The higher the overall score, the higher the individual risk.

"This test could assist in the early detection of the condition in babies and children and help in the early management of those who become diagnosed," lead researcher Stan Skafidas said in a statement.

The test correctly predicted autism with more than 70 percent accuracy in people of central European descent, with study into other ethnic groups continuing.

The test would allow clinicians to provide early intervention to reduce behavioral and cognitive difficulties in people with autism.

"Early identification of risk means we can provide interventions to improve overall functioning for those affected, including families," clinical neuropsychologist Renee Testa said in a statement.

(Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Elaine Lies and Robert Birsel)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
LynnJ wrote:
We need to have a serious look at the environmental factors influencing the terrific increase in autism spectrum disorders, along with the genetics. It is always a matter of interaction between the two – and the rise of autism over the last 4 decades is clearly not something genetic because it has changed so very fast. If these tests become any more accurate, couples will want them done during early pregnancy, as is currently done with other genetic conditions. This is likely to increase the number of abortions for those who have access and can afford them, without addressing the environmental inputs interacting with the genetic factors to produce the disorders. We would likely see autism rates continue to rise, but the population of children with autism would shift to those of limited economic means, those who would suffer the most from the demands put on a family by caring for an autistic member. I fear this would be just one more factor in the current development of a permanent economic underclass.

Sep 12, 2012 12:52pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
Well articulated, LynnJ. It’s refreshing to see such a posting amongst the partisan and dogmatic drivel.

Sep 12, 2012 6:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.