Autism and brain scans

Quick brain scan could screen for autism

LONDON (Reuters) - A 15-minute brain scan could in future be used to
test for autism, helping doctors diagnose the complex condition more
cheaply and accurately.

British scientists said on Tuesday their rapid test had proved more
than 90 percent accurate in adults and there was no reason why it
should not work equally well in children.

It could be a boon for patients and their doctors by reducing reliance
on time-consuming and emotionally trying assessments based on
interviews and behavioral observation.

Autism is a complex brain disorder characterized by difficulties in
social interaction and communication, ranging from mild to profound

The new scanning method -- which picks up on structural changes in the
brain's grey matter -- could be ready for general use in a couple of
years. The next goal is to test it in children.

"What we are working on now is to see if we find the same results in
younger people," research leader Declan Murphy, professor of
psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, said
in an interview.

"We would hope that it would work just as well ... there is no reason
why not."


The ability to base a diagnosis on an objective biological test,
rather than having to rely on personality traits, should mean patients
get treatment more quickly, he added.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and educational treatment can be highly
effective for some patients and the impact of a more certain prognosis
would be especially beneficial for children.

Murphy and colleagues, who published their findings in the Journal of
Neuroscience, studied 20 healthy adults and another 20 individuals
previously diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which also
includes Asperger syndrome.

The accuracy of the scan in predicting autism was so high that the
results were strongly significant, despite the small number of
patients involved.

Experts not involved in the research applauded the research but
cautioned further study was still needed.

"Although this method is not ready for normal diagnostic situations,
any step to easier diagnosis is welcome," said Terry Brugha, professor
of psychiatry at the University of Leicester.

Murphy said he envisaged that in future autism specialists would use a
scan alongside interviews, in much the same way as doctors monitoring
diabetes look at blood test results alongside patient histories.

The new system works by analyzing variations in the shape and
structure of brain regions linked to language and social behavior,
using standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines made by
companies like General Electric, Siemens and Philips.

The speed of the test makes it some 20 times cheaper than traditional
tests, which can take a team of doctors four to eight hours to
conduct. The actual brain scan costs around 100 pounds ($157.5).

Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one percent of the
population in Britain and the United States, and the condition affects
four times as many boys as girls. Researchers agree there is a strong
genetic component.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)