Autism Test for Toxic Metals and Chemical Exposures Could Provide Early Diagnosis Before Symptoms Appear: Study
A group of U.S. researchers indicate that they have developed an innovative test for autism cases that may be caused by toxic exposure, allowing families and medical providers the diagnose autism spectrum disorders (ASD) much earlier than before, which could lead to early interventions.
The new first-of-its-kind autism test is still in the early stages of development, but researchers from Linus Biotechnology Inc., in New York City, say they may be able to detect autism in one-month-old infants using a single strand of hair and testing for heavy metals and toxic substances.
A report was published last month in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, outlining their findings and the promising benefits the new testing for autism may provide.
Testing for Autism Caused By Heavy Metals and Toxic Exposures
Linus Biotechnology researchers report they have developed a method to examine a single strand of hair and use non-invasive biomarkers for ASD to determine with high accuracy whether an infant or child has autism. They conducted a national prospective study using nearly 500 hair samples collected one month after birth from children in Japan, Sweden, and the United States.
Researchers analyzed a national sample of Swedish twins and participants from a specialized ASD center in the U.S. The children underwent clinical diagnosis when they were four years old. Researchers then conducted a blinded analysis and used a predictive algorithm to detect autism risk.
The hair sample screening and analysis were able to detect autism as early as 1 month with 96% sensitivity, 75% specificity, and 81% accuracy, according to the findings.
Autism Risks from Chemicals and Heavy Metals
Hair retains a record of exposure to many substances, including heavy metals and chemicals. The algorithm used in the test analyzes exposure patterns of specific metals and toxins linked with autism risk during critical development periods of pregnancy.
The analysis allows researchers to predict whether the child will have autism based on exposures during pregnancy and early life. It is the first type of test to study metal exposure history over time.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition diagnosed in roughly 2% of children. A recent study concluded 1-in-44 children are diagnosed with autism. Currently, doctors rely on observable behavior patterns to diagnose children, these include avoiding eye contact and delays in language. This is typically done around the age of four.
The causes of autism are largely unknown. However, recent research has linked a range of exposures to increased risk.
One study linked the use of Tylenol during pregnancy to an increased risk of autism. Exposure to chemicals in pesticides like Roundup has also been linked to a heightened risk of autism when infants are exposed during pregnancy.
Furthermore, a handful of studies have indicated exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may increase the risk of developing autism. Children exposed to air pollution before birth often face other development problems as well, including difficulty regulating emotions and increased impulsivity.
Autism Diagnosis Limitations
The problem with autism diagnosis is neural pathways critical to developing language and social functions form during infancy, health experts say. By waiting until a child is a toddler, or later, to diagnose the condition, the age when therapy would be most effective may be bypassed completely.
The new hair strand test, if confirmed, would allow doctors to diagnose ASD much earlier and potentially provide necessary intervention and therapy at a much younger age. This could help children with autism bridge the gap between missed developmental milestones.
The findings are preliminary, and the sample size used to test the method is small. But the company has raised $16 million in venture capital investment and is working to launch a larger study including roughly 2,000 samples.
Researchers hope the test will be used by doctors in conjunction with other diagnostic methods focusing on developmental milestones to help more accurately diagnosis children with autism at a much earlier age.
The researchers also hope to apply the hair analysis test to other health conditions known to be impacted by environmental factors, including some cancers and Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS.
Tylenol and Toxic Baby Food Autism Risks
If the test is verified to work, it could lead to early diagnosis and treatment of autism before symptoms begin to show. Studies have shown that children with autism tend to adjust better to the condition the earlier it is diagnosed.
The findings come as research links autism risks to more and more external factors, such as drugs and exposures to toxic substances.
In recent months, a growing number of lawsuits have been filed claiming Tylenol caused autism or ADHD in children. Most of the current complaints involve claims against retailers like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Costco and other companies, who sold their own brands of acetaminophen drugs over the past two decades without pregnancy warnings. However, it is widely expected that the litigation will include several thousand Tylenol autism lawsuits which will be brought against Johnson & Johnson for it’s role in causing the widespread use of acetaminophen during pregnancy.
There are also concerns over high levels of toxic metals in baby food, which could cause autism and other developmental disorders.
Concerns over high levels of lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic in baby food first emerged in February 2021, when the U.S. House Oversight Committee published the results of data turned over by Beech-Nut, Gerber, Hain and Nurture, Inc., about the levels of toxic metals in their baby food products, and the ingredients used to create them.
Since the congressional subcommittee report, a growing number of toxic baby food lawsuits have been filed by familie nationwide, alleging that the heavy metals in baby food caused their children to develop autism and/or severe ADHD.
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