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Novel method identified to track progress of autism treatment among children

PTI |

In addition to helping to identify the most effective ASD treatment for an individual, this research provides evidence that brain imaging is an important intervention tool. (Representative image)In addition to helping to identify the most effective ASD treatment for an individual, this research provides … Read More

WASHINGTON: For the first time, researchers have developed a new method to map and track the function of brain circuits affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in boys by using brain imaging, an advance which will help in definitive diagnosis and effective treatment of the disorder.

Doctors, for the first time, would be able to quantify how that brain circuit is working in their patients and assess the effectiveness of an intervention, the researchers said.

The technique will provide clinicians and therapists with a physical measure of the progress patients are making with behavioural and/or drug treatments – a tool that has been elusive in autism treatment until this point, researchers said.

“This is significant because biomarkers give us a ‘why’ for understanding autism in boys that we have not had before,” said Kevin Pelphrey from George Washington University.

“We can now use functional biomarkers to identify what treatments will be effective for individual cases and measure progress,” said Pelphrey.

Researchers analysed a series of 164 images from 114 individuals and discovered the brain scans of the social perception circuits only indicated ASD in boys.

This new research has the potential to improve treatment for ASD by measuring changes in the social perception brain circuit in response to different interventions.

Researchers found the brain scan data can be an effective indicator of function of the circuit in younger children and older patients alike.

The study is particularly relevant for ASD patients who are difficult to diagnose and treat by providing a more definitive diagnosis and in developing a treatment programme when it is not clear if behavioural, drug or a combination of the treatments will be most effective, researchers said.

“The behavioural symptoms of ASD are so complex and varied it is difficult to determine whether a new treatment is effective, especially within a realistic time frame,” said Malin Bjornsdotter from University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

“Brain function markers may provide the specific and objective measures required to bridge this gap,” said Bjornsdotter.

In addition to helping to identify the most effective ASD treatment for an individual, this research provides evidence that brain imaging is an important intervention tool.

Currently, functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), the type of brain scan used in this study, is not a standard part of ASD treatment, as there is not enough evidence linking the scan to effective treatments.

“This kind of imaging can help us answer the question, ‘On day one of treatment, will this child benefit from a 16-week behavioural intervention?'” said Pelphrey.

“Answering that question will help parents save time and money on diagnosis and treatments,” he said.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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