New research from the Yale School of Medicine shows that autism could be predicted by abnormalities in birth placenta.
The study, published this week in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that placental "folds" and trophoblast inclusions - abnormal cell growths - can be used to predict whether babies are at risk for autism.
Researchers looked at 117 placentas from infants who already had risk factors for autism, comparing them to 100 placentas from infants not known to be at risk for autism. The placentas from at-risk infants were found to have as many as 15 trophoblast inclusions. The most any placentas from non-at-risk infants had was two. The Yale researchers stated that placenta with four or more trophoblast inclusions "conservatively" predicts a 96.7% chance of the infant being at risk for autism.
The new findings are important, researchers say, because current diagnoses of autism typically happen at age 3 or older, while effective treatment for autism should start well before the child reaches that age.
"Regrettably couples without known genetic susceptibility must rely on identification of early signs or indicators that may not overtly manifest until the child's second or third year of life," said Dr. Harvey Kliman, senior author of the study and a research scientist in the OB/GYN department at Yale.
"I hope that diagnosing the risk of developing autism by examining the placenta at birth will become routine, and that the children who are shown to have increased numbers of trophoblast inclusions will have early interventions and an improved quality of life as a result of this test."
(Image courtesy Patrick Lynch/Yale University)