New Autism Study: Can Placenta Predict Child’s Risk Of Autism?

By Philip Ross on April 25, 2013 4:18 PM EDT

new autism study
Researchers in California who studied hundreds of placentas say the organ, usually discarded after birth, may help indicate a child’s risk for autism. One early sign that a child has autism is if he or she lines up toys or objects excessively. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Could placenta help predict a child's risk of autism? A new autism study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, offers some insight into the complex matter of autism diagnosis.

The New York Times reports that the study, published in Biological Psychiatry, demonstrates that the placenta, the organ that connects a fetus to the mother's uterine wall and allows the developing child to absorb nutrients and get rid of waste, might indicate a child's chance to develop autism.

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What Can Placenta Tell Us About Autism?

Researchers studied 217 placentas and found that in families at higher genetic risks for autism, the placenta was far more likely to have creases and folds in it. Until recently, scientists and doctors paid little attention to the placenta. Only 10 to 15 percent of placentas are analyzed, usually in the event of complications or death of the newborn. From the Times:

Dr. Harvey J. Kliman, a research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said the placenta had typically been given such little respect in the medical community that wanting to study it was considered equivalent to someone in the Navy wanting to scrub ships' toilets with a toothbrush. But he became fascinated with placentas and noticed that inclusions often occurred with births involving problematic outcomes, usually genetic disorders.

It will take a few years for researchers to know which children involved in the study have some degree of autism, but if it turns out that the children with autism also had folds or creases in their placentas, called trophoblast inclusions, it could be an important indicator of autism risk in newborns.

How Autism Is Diagnosed Now

Autism affects about one in 88 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is almost five times more common in boys than girls. Most children are not diagnosed with ASD until after they reach 4 years of age.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, or NINDS, reports that ASD is usually diagnosed when parents and medical professionals witness key indicators of ASD. Early signs that a child has autism include poor eye contact, lack of babbling or pointing by age 1, no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2, no response to name and excessive lining up of toys or objects.

Studies show that parents will usually notice if their child shows signs of a developmental problem by the time the child's first birthday, CDC reports. A proper diagnosis takes a full team of various psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and speech therapists.

Read more from iScience Times:

Why Are Boys More Prone To Autism? It's In The Genes

Can EEGs Detect Autism?

Genetic Autism Test Can Provide Early Detection

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