Towards a diagnosis of autism based on biochemical markers?

An interesting piece of work on the diagnosis of autism has recently been published in the scientific journal PLOS Computational Biology. The authors work at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

Autistic patients have limited social interaction skills and show restricted repetitive behaviors. Although important progress has been made in recent years to understand the underlying pathophysiology of this disorder, its causes remain largely unknown. This lack of biological knowledge restricts diagnoses to be made based on behavioral observations and psychometric tools.

This study tackles a new approach that uses biochemical measures taken from blood samples in the diagnosis of the disorder. The idea behind this method is that certain metabolic pathways are frequently altered in autism. The authors have developed an algorithm that combines data from a number of blood metabolites and is able to predict the outcome of the disorder with high accuracy at least in a subset of the cases. The authors, who are system biologists, have used big data analytical tools. According to one of them, Juergen Hahn, “instead of looking at individual metabolites, we investigated patterns of several metabolites and found significant differences between metabolites of children with ASD and those that are neurotypical“. And he added that “by measuring 24 metabolites from a blood sample, this algorithm can tell whether or not an individual is on the Autism spectrum, and even to some degree where on the spectrum they land.”

The model developed by this team seem to have much stronger predictability than any existing approaches from the scientific literature and paves the way towards a diagnosis based on biomarkers for the first time.

More information can be found at     http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005385

Women in science

Dear colleagues, I am transmitting a message from Noèlia Fernàndez-Castillo and Bàrbara Torrico, postdocs in my research group:

“Last 5th of July, both the Aggressotype and the CoCA projects were mentioned in the ‘Women in Neuroscience’ workshop at the 10th FENS Forum in Copenhagen, which we had the pleasure to attend. Different researchers from the field presented their personal experiences, either working to bring to light gender differences in science, promoting gender equality programs or as young researchers trying to reconcile work and family life. After their nice and encouraging talks, all the assistants had the opportunity to formulate their questions and/or comments, generating very productive debates.

A lot of effort is still needed in science to reach gender equality, an issue that does not only affect women, and that involves much more than simply fighting against the gender bias in obtaining senior positions. This is a problem that affects all of us in the way we work on science and treat our partners. Several issues were addressed in the workshop that we were not aware of and that we think should be important to disseminate and discuss with our colleagues.

For that purpose, we would like to propose a short talk and a mini-debate on gender equality in the next general assembly meetings of our EU projects that may contribute a bit to deal with this issues. Given the international character of our projects, we could address differences regarding gender policies among countries in research institutions. We consider that people working on the same project should share equal perspectives regardless of their sex, but also of their place of work. We thank the organization of the FENS meeting for this enriching and encouraging workshop.”