According to a new study, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) can offer a new option for diagnosing autism in children. The study took place at Columbia University, and is highlighted in the May 31 online edition of Radiology.
Autism is a frequently reported disorder among children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it develops in one in 110 children in the United States. Autism leads to repetitive behaviors and impairments in language, communication and social skills.
Joy Hirsch, a professor of functional neuroradiology, neuroscience and psychology, and director of the Functional MRI Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, a lead author in the study, said "There is a serious unmet need in the autism world, where diagnosis is currently done by subjective reports, and after the child has missed many developmental milestones," adding "It is now possible to develop an objective imaging diagnostic,"
The study showed that fMRI can differentiate between normal brain and the brains of children with autism. The imaging technique is able to determine the level of responsiveness in language areas in the brain. Dr. Hirsch explained "What we can measure are signals in the brain, in a specific language area, that are depressed in autistic children and normal in typical children,"
The study involved 27 children. 12 of them had autism while the other 15 were normal. All the participating children were examined using fMRI. The children were between 4-17 years.
While imaging took place, researchers showed the children recordings of their parents talking to them. The researchers then monitored brain activity in brain sections responsible for hearing and understanding language. fMRI showed no difference between the two groups of children in the activity in the hearing area of the brain. However, the language comprehension region in the brain, normal children had more activity that the autism group.
fMRI was used on another group consisting of 27 autism children, between 5 to 17 years. The imaging procedure confirmed that 26 of this group had autism. "Although the investigators did indeed find significant differences on neuroimaging between controls and autistic children, the clinical utility from a diagnostic standpoint is unclear." said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in Lake Success.