(credit: Jan Krutisch)

By scanning the growing brains of 148 babies with high and low risks of autism, researchers could predict which children would develop the disorder within the first year of life before symptoms began appearing, and diagnoses were made at two, researchers reported Wednesday in Nature.

Those researchers, led by psychologists Heather Cody Hazlett and Joseph Piven at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, got the idea for the study after finding earlier that children with autism tended to have larger brains than kids without the disorder. To follow up, they used magnetic resonance imaging to track and predict brain overgrowth as it happened. In all, the study raises hope that doctors will one day be able to make diagnoses quickly, allowing for earlier and earlier interventions.

The study has limitations, of course: it was small, so researchers will need to repeat it with far more children to confirm the findings. It also only applies to babies with a high-risk of developing autism, which are babies who have siblings already diagnosed with the disorder. For families with one child with autism, there’s about a one-in-five chance that subsequent children will also be affected. In the general population in the US, autism is diagnosed in about one in 68.

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Source: Brain scans during the first year can predict autism in high-risk babies | Ars Technica

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