A University of Warwick project aimed to figure out whether autism spectrum disorder could be discovered early by way of a simple blood or urine test, rather than the rigorous battery of behavioral tests that is now used.
Currently, there is no test to identify ASD, which the NHS describes as "a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person's social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour".
As there is a wide range of ASD symptoms, diagnosis can be hard and uncertain, particularly at the early stages of development.
"Algorithms to discriminate between ASD and healthy controls gave a strong diagnostic performance with features: plasma protein AGEs-CML, CMA-and 3-deoxyglucosone-derived hydroimidazolone, and oxidative damage marker, DT", the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Molecular Autism.
Autism could be detected in children through a new blood and urine test that is thought to be the first of its kind.
The team behind the new study certainly recognize some of the limitations in the work, admitting that further research needs to be done to isolate different age-related biomarkers, and to identify variations in severity of the condition.
"We have found that the power of measuring damaged proteins to the brain may be a cause for a development of autism", said Paul Thornalley, a professor in systems biology at the University of Warwick, who co-led the study.
We hope the tests will also reveal new causative factors. Blood and urine samples were taken from the children for analysis.
There are no biological tests that can now detect autism, and diagnostic tools are behavioral assessments by professionals. "We also found some disturbance in the handling of the amino acid arginine which supports previous evidence of a genetic association with autism". Working with a collaborator at the University of Birmingham, the changes in multiple compounds combined using artificial intelligence algorithms techniques to develop a mathematical equation or algorithm to distinguish between ASD and controls.
Most doctors will not diagnose a child as autistic until about 18 months old, according to the CDC, though symptoms can appear earlier. "Then the tests will be ready for screening".
"This (study) is weakened by a small sample size, possible overfitting of data and a lack of comparison groups", said James Cusack, director of science at Austistica, a United Kingdom research charity that aims to understand the causes of autism and improve diagnosis. They need to repeat the study's findings in other groups.
Supposedly, this test can lead to an early diagnosis of autism.
He said: "This attempt is weakened by a small sample size, possible overfitting of data and a lack of comparison groups". He cautions that applying the test to a large population may produce a large number of false positives, causing unnecessary worry.