By employing non-invasive 20-minute-long MRI brain scans in newborn, the scientists try mapping brain circuits in babies to help specialists early detect autism. That’s the conclusion of a new study headed by Hao Huang and his co-workers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“We used cutting-edge methods to see microstructure throughout the brain during a critical period of maturation. In addition to characterizing typical brain development, these measurements offer the potential to detect biomarkers of autism spectrum disorder at an age that could allow early diagnosis and possibly early intervention,” said Hao Huang, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Radiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
The new research, issued in PNAS Journal earlier this week, examined the brains of 76 pre-term and term newborns, out of which 47 were males and 29 females, aged between 31 and 42 postmenstrual weeks. The scientists conducted two measurements. The first, called fractional anisotropy, estimated the microstructural organization in the brain, while the second one, known as mean kurtosis (MK), measured the microstructural complexity.
Brain Scans In Newborns Might Help Specialists Detect Autism
Different from other studies of cerebral cortex microstructure, mostly founded on tissue sampling after death and which provided only some limited and localized data, the new research, based on MRI brain scans in newborns, explored the entire cortex. Even more, according to Hao Huang, by analyzing a broader number of newborns shed more light on brain development.
The scientists believe that the same method, diffuse MRI brain scans, is applicable in newborns to help specialists detect autism at an early age. Autism, which is now only detectable in kids over two years old and just after elaborate psychological testings, is affecting children of any ethnicity, health condition, and so on. While the causes of autism remain a mystery for the moment, early detection of this condition might prove useful.
Now, the researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia plan to conduct a follow-up study to work on their method, hoping to confirm that, indeed, brain scans in newborns would help specialists detect autism.