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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Are we ready for a prenatal screening test for autism?

A blood test for diagnosing autism is becoming a realistic possibility, but the ethical implications are profound

By David Cox

Originally published May 1, 2014

Here are two excerpts:

One approach is to compare blood samples from autism patients and healthy individuals and search for what is known as a protein fingerprint – a set of protein levels that is consistently and markedly different in people with autism. So far this has been done relatively successfully in Asperger's syndrome, forming the basis of a blood test that can diagnose the disorder with 80% accuracy, and there are hopes this feat can soon be replicated for autism disorder.


"The whole ethos behind medicine is to do no harm and if the test is only 80% accurate, it means a proportion of people will be told they have the condition when they don't, so you've raised anxieties unnecessarily. Equally if the test is missing people, then they'll be going away thinking I'm fine when they could be getting support."

Whether measuring protein levels alone should ever be sufficient for a diagnosis is also open to question. Like all neuropsychiatric conditions, autism has varying degrees of severity, meaning some patients require constant care while those with "high-functioning autism" are capable of living independently, adapting to society around them and holding down a job. Right now, such a test would merely pool everyone with autism into the same category. Should we be intervening at all in some cases?

The entire story is here.

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