Science and Health

Could a hair test help doctors diagnose autism at younger ages?

StrandDx analyzes the hair for toxic exposures linked to autism risk years before symptoms start.

8-year-old Nathan Valerio works with the "Teach" system which is specifically designed for autistic children
Michael Macor / AP
SMS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about one in 44 American children have autism and most kids aren't diagnosed until after symptoms show up around age four.

But scientists say the condition could be detected much earlier.

Researchers in New York have developed a groundbreaking test to find biomarkers for autism in infants using a single strand of hair.

StrandDx analyzes the hair for toxic exposures linked to autism risk years before symptoms start. In a recent study, the technology predicted autism 81% of the time.

"This is a diagnostic aid, so it must be used by clinicians along with other clinical information and their clinical judgment," said Manish Arora, CEO and co-founder of Linus Biotechnology.

Researchers say the current diagnosis of autism is difficult because there's no medical testing, like a blood test.

"When you don't have biomarkers, when you don't have proper tools, you miss that particular window of opportunity," Arora said. "Our brain is really developing, really hungry to learn. It can change and learn new skills and also lose bad habits in the first year or two of life."

The hope is StrandDx will help children get the treatment they need sooner and also lead to the development of new therapies.

Development of the test is still in the very early stages and it isn't Food and Drug Administration approved.

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