Thursday, December 02, 2010

New Studies Reveal That MRI Testing Could Scan For Autism

While the study's scientists caution that the study involved only boys and those with high functioning autism, the fact that MRI testing revealed those with autism 94% of the time shows that MRIs may have a place in determining whether an individual has autism or another illness.
The new test is based on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screen. In its trials, it was able to distinguish between people who have autism and others by changes in their brains. However, the findings were preliminary — researchers tried out this method of diagnosis on only two groups of patients; both groups were males with high-functioning autism.

But this test brings "the potential for younger people to have their autism diagnosed" earlier, said study researcher Nicholas Lange, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neurostatistics Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.

Experts say the earlier that autism is diagnosed, the better the intervention by health care experts. Right now, autism can be diagnosed in patients as young as age 3. The disorder involves having trouble communicating and interacting with others, and behaving inappropriately in social situations.

Previous work has suggested MRIs could be used to diagnose autism. A study published in October in the journal Cerebral Cortex found that changes in oxygen levels in the brains of people with autism were less synchronized than in the brains of people without the disorder, meaning areas of the patients' brains weren't signaling properly. These oxygen changes can also be seen in an MRI of the brain, according to University of Utah researchers.

Who has it, and who doesn't?
In Lange's study, 30 men ages 8 to 26 who had been subjectively diagnosed with high-functioning autism, underwent MRI scans of their brains, as did 30 men without autism. The researchers also conducted an imaging test that let them observe how water flows throughout the brain.

They examined six parts of the brain's circuitry and found one observable difference in the men who had autism. In a typical, healthy person, water flows in an organized manner in the left side of the brain and flows in a disorganized way in the right side of the brain.

But in the men with autism, water flowed in a disorganized way in the left side of the brain and in an organized way in the right side of the brain, he said.
Right now, there is quite a bit of confusion over the diagnosis of autism and the DSM has provided guidance based on symptoms along a spectrum, which means that some individuals may be getting misdiagnosed. The MRI can help distinguish those who are truly autistic from those who aren't.

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