Emory studies autism blood test

by: Diana Davis Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Emory University may be blazing a trail that could help children with autism.
         
It’s about to start a study on a blood test that may catch autism earlier. That could have big implications for treatment, as autism can affect children’s' speech and ability to communicate and interact.
        
Parent Stephanie Medlin told Channel 2’s Diana Davis she knew something was wrong when her 2-year-old twins weren't talking much.

“They had about three or four words that they could use correctly, and they should have had like 10 to 20 words,” Medlin said.

It took months of behavioral tests, uncertainty and delays to find out it was autism. Medlin said that added to the stress.

“It’s really hard to be a parent in that limbo, because you absolutely want to do the best that you can for your children,” said Medlin.

Autism is diagnosed by watching children's behavior and performance on developmental tests.
         
Emory now will be one of 20 places across the country to study the accuracy of a blood test for autism. Dr. Micheal Morrier of the Emory Autism Center it would require only a small sample of children’s blood.
         
“It’s looking for a specific sort of genetic marker where you can say, ‘If you have this, you are at risk for having autism,’” Morrier said.

Currently, the average age for an autism diagnosis is 4 ½ years old.  A test could pin down the diagnosis years earlier.
                   
“It would basically be able to get kids into treatment earlier and really help some of the symptoms from developing, I believe,” Morrier said. 
         
Medlin said she would have welcomed a test for her children.
         
“Had it been something that I could have just had a doctor say, ‘Yes there you go,’ it would have been fantastic,” she said. 
         
Even if the test works, doctors said it won't catch all autism, but narrowing down diagnoses for even some patients would be a tremendous help, Morrier said.
                   
“Just because you have a blood test doesn’t mean you can cure a disability, but it will mean, yes, we can start treatment as early as possible,” he said.

Emory is looking for 50 children to participate in the study. They need to be between 18 months and 5 years old. For more information you can call the Emory Department of Human Genetics at 404-778-8528.



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