Researchers inch toward biomarkers for autism
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) reportedly affect 1 in 88 people in the U.S., but there remain no reliable biomarkers to diagnose them in early stages. That's not for lack of effort, however, and the journal Disease Markers points out that researchers have made some progress in mapping the prevalent affliction.
The most effective treatments for autism are early behavioral therapies, researcher Irina Voineagu said. "Thus the identification of biological markers for ASD, allowing very early detection, even before the onset of symptoms, would be of tremendous value," Voineagu said in a statement.
For that, researchers are turning to genomics, studying the genetic basis of human language and its autism-related impairments. University of Texas scientists have identified the FOXP gene as playing a role in regulating language development, and they are investigating how its expression plays into autism.
Meanwhile, George Washington University's Valerie Hu is taking a genome-wide approach, looking for subphenotype-dependent indicators of autism that may one day lead to targeted therapies for the many types of spectrum disorders.
"Without genetic or molecular markers for screening, individuals with ASD are typically not diagnosed before the age of 2, with milder cases diagnosed much later," Hu writes. "Because early diagnosis is tantamount to early behavioral intervention, which has been shown to improve individual outcomes, an objective biomarker test that can diagnose at-risk children perinatally is a medical imperative."
Disease Markers collected all of the researchers' recent work in an autism-focused issue, taking a snapshot of where science stands on the path to better understanding an opaque but common health concern.