Photo: Stephen Dager, adjunct faculty in bioengineering, and UW professor of radiology and associate director of UW’s Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD). Photo credit: Marie-Anne Domsalla.
Researchers from the nationwide Infant Brain Imaging Study Network have discovered biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) among high-risk infants. UW Bioengineering adjunct faculty Stephen Dager, professor of radiology and associate director of UW’s Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD), was among co-authors on the study, which was published February 15 in Nature. CHDD was among four clinical sites across the United States leading the study; also participating were the University of North Carolina, Washington University in St. Louis and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The study included hundreds of children from across the country. The researchers used MRI to measure the brains of “low-risk” infants, who had at least one autistic sibling, and “low-risk,” who had no family history of autism, at 6 months, 12 months and 24 months. At 6 months and 12 months, they input MRI measurements of brain volume, surface area and cortical thickness, and the sex of the infant, into a computer program. The program developed an algorithm to predict the babies most likely to meet ASD criteria at 24 months of age.
The researchers then applied this algorithm to a separate set of study participants. They correctly identified 80 percent of the babies who would be diagnosed with ASD at age 2, which is the earliest the disorder can be reliably diagnosed. The team’s discovery may inform the development of early diagnostic tools for ASD, and may also lead to clinical interventions that could be used earlier in life to prevent children from falling behind in social and communication skills.
The Seattle Times also featured the team’s research in its February 16 issue.