Battelle breakthrough could help autistic children receive treatment sooner

Battelle scientists have identified a low-cost urine test that potentially predicts the presence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at an early age.

ASD, which is defined by behavioral characteristics, has been difficult for physicians to diagnose at an early age before these behaviors become more apparent (usually about two years of age or older). Recent research indicates that ASD affects 1 in 88 children in the U.S.

The Battelle team of Drs. Nicholas Heyer and Diana Echeverria joined with Professor James Woods at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health to evaluate the levels of porphyrins in the urine of children with ASD to determine if certain levels of specific porphyrins could predict ASD.

Identifying this link may have important clinical implications for diagnosis and treatment. The ability to detect porphyrins, a group of naturally occurring organic compounds, in a simple urine test allows for a rapid, low-cost and widely used screening test for identifying young children at a high risk for ASD.

“This is significant because it means children may be diagnosed with ASD at an earlier age and can thus receive treatment sooner. Early treatment can lead to a better quality of life for children with ASD,” Heyer said.

The findings were published in this month’s edition of Autism Research, and coincide with Autism Awareness Month.

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