Beaumont Researchers Move Toward Detecting Autism in Newborns

Researchers at Southfield-based Beaumont Health have identified key biomarkers for predicting autism in newborns. Early detection is linked to significantly improved outcomes and can aid in development.
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Researchers at Beaumont have identified key biomarkers for predicting autism in newborns. // Stock photo

Researchers at Southfield-based Beaumont Health have identified key biomarkers for predicting autism in newborns. Early detection is linked to significantly improved outcomes and can aid in development.

A team led by Dr. Ray Bahado-Singh, a geneticist and chair of obstetrics and gynecology for Beaumont Health and the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, used artificial intelligence to scan maps of the human genome. The team’s findings could lead to a standardized newborn screening tool that uses a blood test, enabling earlier intervention and reducing disability.

The project compared DNA from 14 known cases of autism to 10 control cases. Results appeared in the journal Brain Research.

“Compared to what is currently available, these findings provide a more direct method which could be employed earlier on, shortly after birth,” Bahado-Singh says. “It’s been shown that children who are treated earlier do better in life.”

Symptoms of autism include sensory processing difficulties, anxiety, irritability, sleep dysfunction, seizures, and gastrointestinal disorders.

According to Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, nearly half of 25-year-olds diagnosed with autism have never held a paying job. In the U.S., the majority of costs associated with autism are for adult services — an estimated $175 billion to $196 billion per year, compared to $61 billion to $66 billion per year for children.

“Although it has been thought for many years that the underlying cause of a significant proportion of autism is likely to be nongenetic in nature, this study takes a very pragmatic and important first step toward investigating the epigenome — the inheritable changes in gene expression — and identifying those underlying nongenetic influences,” says Dr. David Aughton, genetics chief for Beaumont Children’s. “The authors call for larger follow-up studies to validate their findings, and I eagerly look forward to learning the outcome of those validation studies.”

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends all children be screened for autism between 18 and 24 months, but many children in the U.S. do not receive screenings.

“We are always looking for new ways to make a difference in the lives of our patients,” says Lori Warner, director of the Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center, which treats children with autism at Beaumont Children’s. “Getting them into therapy early on is a proven way to make their path, and that of their families, easier and more meaningful.”

Beaumont Health has a net revenue of $4.7 billion and consists of eight hospitals with more than 3,400 beds, 145 outpatient sites, nearly 5,000 physicians, 38,000 employees, and 3,500 volunteers. The health system had about 18,000 births in 2018.

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