A simple blood test might be able to reveal whether a child has autism, according to researchers who recently launched a study to evaluate such a test.
The study, which began this week and involves 660 participants at 20 facilities around the United States, will examine whether the test can accurately distinguish between children who have autism and children who have other developmental delays, the researchers said.
While the blood test by itself cannot diagnose an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the researchers hope it will speed up the time it takes to diagnose the condition, which can be a lengthy process.
"If a blood test could indicate ASD risk, it would help families and physicians know when to refer children to an ASD expert, potentially leading to earlier treatment and better outcomes," Dr. Jeremy Veenstra VanderWeele, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, said in a statement.
The study is being funded by SynapDx, the company that hopes to develop and market the test.
Autism spectrum disorders are a range of developmental disorders characterized by social impairment, language difficulties and repetitive behaviors. Currently, ASD is diagnosed by evaluating a
The new test could provide an objective marker for autism that would be used in conjunction with clinical evaluation, the researchers said. The test looks at gene expression — whether a gene is "turned on" or not — and is aimed at distinguishing between children who have autism and those who
In a 2012 study of a similar test involving 170 children with autism and 115 children without autism, the test could accurately identify autism in two-thirds of children who had the condition. That test, which looked for differences in the expression of 55 genes, was later licensed to SynapDx.
The earlier study indicates that the blood test for autism is not accurate enough to reliably distinguish between the children who had autism and those who did not, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Childrens Medical Center of New York.
Additionally, researchers still need to prove that the test works
Even if the test proves accurate in identifying which children have autism, the jury is still out on whether it would really be helpful for doctors and patients, experts say.
"Autism is a very heterogeneous disorder," meaning its symptoms and severity can vary widely depending on the individual child, said Dr. Roberto Tuchman, director of the Autism and Neurodevelopment Program at Miami Childrens Hospital. So a test that tells you a child has autism "
"I don’t know that
Tuchman noted that a doctor who was concerned enough about a
However, Tuchman supported the idea of an