A new autism study published Thursday online in Biological Psychiatry could offer new clues to early detection of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researcher Dr. Harvey Kliman from Yale University explained that his team has discovered that a quick examination of a baby’s placenta at birth could reveal whether or not the child is at high risk for developing ASD.
Estimates vary, but somewhere from one in 88 to one in 50 American children has some form of autism. The earlier it’s diagnosed, the faster the parents can seek treatment in guiding their child’s development.
A baby with ASD looks normal at birth. Therefore, ASD isn’t usually diagnosed until the child begins to display a wide range of development problems beginning around age two or three.
However, the new research suggests that the placentas of babies at high risk for autism have many more abnormal folds than the placentas from normal babies.
The new autism study involved looking at placentas from 217 births. Dr. Cheryl Walker from the University of California Davis and a co-author of the study told The New York Times that she was skeptical at first about Dr. Kliman’s hypothesis:
“[T]his sounds like a very smart person with a very intriguing hypothesis, [but] I don’t know him and I don’t know how much I trust him,” she confessed. Therefore, she tested him by sending him the 217 placentas but letting him think that all of them came from high-risk babies.
Actually, 100 of the placentas came from low-risk babies.
And Kliman could figure out which was which just from examining the placenta.
Of the placentas he examined from potentially high-risk babies, 77 had the folds, and 16 had five to 15 of the folds.
Of the placentas from low-risk babies, zero had three or more folds. Two-thirds had none of the creases at all.
By the way, the abnormal folds in the placenta don’t somehow cause autism. Instead, it’s likely that whatever happens in a child’s brain and body to cause ASD also affects the placenta.
Hospitals may ultimately consider examining placentas at birth to check on the health of the child if the new autism study stands up.
[baby photo by Oksana Kuzmina via Shutterstock]