A 15-minute brain scan identified adults with autism almost as effectively as conventional methods of diagnosis that rely on interviews with patients and their families, U.K. scientists said.
The scan detected more than 90 percent of the autistic patients who had been diagnosed using intelligence tests, psychiatric interviews, physical examinations and blood tests, according to a study by King’s College London researchers to be published tomorrow in the Washington-based Journal of Neuroscience.
Autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong and disabling condition caused by abnormal brain development, impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with people. It affects more than 500,000 people in the U.K. Diagnosis often relies on the accounts of patients’ friends and relatives, according to the U.K. Medical Research Council, which sponsored the research. The scan may alleviate the need for an emotional and time-consuming process of diagnosis, the researchers said.
“Our new method will help people with autism spectrum disorder to be diagnosed more quickly and cost effectively,” Declan Murphy, the King’s College London professor of psychiatry and brain maturation who led the research, said in a statement. “Most importantly, their diagnosis will be based on an objective ‘biomarker’ and not simply on the opinion of a clinician which is formed after an interview.”
The researchers tested 59 male patients between the ages of 20 and 68. Twenty were healthy, twenty had autism and 19 had attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. The scientists used magnetic resonance imaging to take pictures of the brain, and a separate technique to assemble the pictures as three-dimensional images. A computer program assessed the images to determine the structure, shape and thickness of the brains, aiding diagnosis.
Further testing is needed to determine how the scan could help diagnose autism in children, said Christine Ecker, a lecturer in the Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences who conducted the research, in the statement.
The study was also supported by the London-based Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Research.