The detection of damaged proteins in blood and urine tests could help to diagnose autism quicker so that children can be given appropriate treatment.
Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed new blood and urine tests that detect damaged proteins, which are associated with autism spectrum disorders. The study, published in Molecular Autism, explains how the damage to specific proteins could act as a ‘fingerprint’ that improves the diagnosis of autism and our understanding of what causes the disorder and other similar conditions.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) tend to affect social interaction but they can also influence other areas of behavior, including speech, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Autism is currently estimated to affect 1 in 100 people in Europe, with between 30 and 35% of ASD cases down to genetics causes and 65-70% associated with environmental factors, mutations, and rare genetic variants. With current diagnostic techniques not effective enough, many people living with ASDs do not receive the help they need, which is a big problem.
The researchers found a link between ASDs and damage to proteins in the blood caused by oxidation and glycation, two processes that spontaneously modify proteins. In a study carried out at the University of Bologna in Italy, 38 children with ASD and 31 healthy children had blood and urine samples taken for analysis. Chemical differences were observed between the two groups and the most reliable test looked at proteins in the blood, where higher levels of an oxidation marker and sugar-modified compounds called were associated with ASDs.
In collaboration with researchers at the University of Birmingham, the changes to multiple compounds were combined using artificial intelligence (AI) and an algorithm was developed that distinguishes between children with ASD and healthy controls. The final result was a diagnostic test that outperforms all current approaches.
With current diagnostic techniques deemed not to be effective enough, this research could play a big part in improving the lives of children with autism and other spectrum disorders. The impact of this research could be even better if it is combined with the exciting technology in development around Europe, including GW Pharma’s cannabinoid-based pipeline, which has been tipped to produce an epilepsy blockbuster, and could be adapted for the treatment of autism. There has even been research into the potential of the microbiome as a therapeutic target for autism.
One thing to consider is that ASDs cover a very wide range of conditions that vary in both their characteristics and their cause. It would be interesting to see the test used for specific conditions, which could help to further improve the accuracy of the AI algorithm to distinguish between various disorders.
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