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Subspecialties Laboratory management, Clinical care, Screening and monitoring, Neurology, Endocrinology

Sampling the Spectrum

Most parents of children with autism will agree that early diagnosis and intervention is best. But autism isn’t always easy to diagnose – the label encompasses a broad spectrum of traits and may present differently in every patient. As a common saying in the community goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism… you’ve met one person with autism.”

Figure 1. Serum levels of a) thyroid-stimulating hormone.

Figure 1. Serum levels of b) interleukin-8 in boys involved in the study. TSH is significantly lower and IL-8 significantly higher in boys on the autism spectrum than in typically developing boys. Adapted from (1).

So how can doctors contend with this diagnostic challenge and ensure patients are treated as early as possible? New research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has shown that levels of two blood biomarkers, measured together, can accurately diagnose autism in over four-fifths of patients. The study examined a total of 82 boys (43 with autism spectrum disorders; 39 typically developing). In the former group, levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) were significantly suppressed, whereas levels of interleukin-8 were significantly elevated. Each biomarker predicted autism with approximately 75 percent accuracy, and combining them increased the overall accuracy to 82 percent.

The study’s authors suggest pursuing panels of blood proteins as a method of accurately identifying and characterizing autism spectrum disorders. Their next step: to increase their sample size, and to add two further proteins (apolipoprotein E and stem cell factor) to their panel with the hope of improving overall diagnostic accuracy.

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  1. S Singh et al., “Serum thyroid-stimulating hormone and interleukin-8 levels in boys with autism spectrum disorder”, J Neuroinflammation, 14, 113 (2017). PMID: 28577577.
About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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