A newborn's placenta may reveal autism risk

Doctors may be able to diagnose a child's risk of autism at birth, which would allow treatment of the burgeoning disorder to begin in the child's earliest days, a new study finds.

Solely by looking at the abnormal folds of their placenta, Yale University researchers were able to identify whether a newborn was or was not the younger sibling of a child with autism – and therefore nine times more likely to develop the condition themselves.

Researchers at UC Davis' MIND Institute have been following the younger siblings of children with autism in a study called Markers of Autism Risk in Babies – Learning Early Signs, or MARBLES, to see if they can gain insights into the causes of autism. They sent 217 placenta samples to Kliman, who was able with 90% accuracy to identify without prior knowledge which of the placentas came from the younger sibling of a child with autism, and which from another study participant who did not have autism in the family.

The abnormal folding in the placenta suggests that autism may affect the way tissue is folded throughout the body, he said.

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