The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘brain scan

Placing autistic brains “on the map”

leave a comment »

Erin Allday of the San Francisco Chronicle filed an article this weekend reporting a Stanford University research project suggesting autistic children have a distinctive topography within their brains, based on data obtained from brain scans of 24 autistic children between ages 8 and 18 when compared to scans of 24 non-autistic children. Unlike previous studies that analyzed the overall volume of the brain, where it was found that autistic children generally have larger than average brains, but the information wasn’t refined enough to be useful in diagnosing or treating the disorder, the Stanford study sectioned brain scans into tiny cubes and compared the size and structure through computer analysis. What they found was a pattern of organization in regions of the brain affecting communication and self-awareness particular to autistic children (communication and awareness are hallmark facets that autism affects).

The brain maps applied to 80 to 90 percent of autistic children, and the research pinpoints a potential bio-marker should the maps be replicated in a larger group of children. While the research is years away from application in the real world, coupled with questions about the method’s validity in screening children, the goal is providing refined treatments and clearer understanding of autism’s impact on a vital organ. The research was published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Numerous studies and endless research attempts to find a biological indicator for autism spectrum disorder will continue as long as the cause of the condition remains unknown. On this blog, I’ve covered urine tests and studies on genetic proteins as potential signs to determine whether or not a person fits the autism spectrum. The explorations of so many subjects aren’t all that different from “old wife’s tales” of treating various conditions. When there’s a lack of concrete indicators for a disorder or disease, researchers task themselves to discovering at least one answer. Throughout the quest, numerous possibilities and theories emerge until further research either eliminates them or creates new support to continue investigating a certain topic. Unfortunately, the process is agonizingly long and often ignored by a mainstream audience thirsting for instant gratification, and that’s one reason why stories I cover on biological research often mentions such studies are years away from widespread relevance.

Another reason? Small sample sizes. In order to determine whether a theory is potentially correct or not while avoiding over-exerting resources, autism studies will generally use a localized test group that rarely breaks four figures. This story is one example of how quickly patterns and similarities can be found among people with a particular condition, and that itself is progress compared to scientific observations of autism 20 years ago.

Allday goes through the usual angles in covering this story, explaining autism’s rapid growth while a solution to finding the cause continues. I’ve mentioned before that stories on studies are difficult to provide detailed information because what is published is usually an early step of testing a hypothesis. Allday tempers any reader who may spout that a bio-sign was found by uncovering the unknown usefulness of the research itself. Stories like hers will continue to be published to newspapers as a “mainstream translation” of what is disseminated by journals, even though answers lie far beyond. However, when a biological cause is found, reporters will hopefully have at least one story of their own to reference.


This just in…5,000 hits to tickle your brain

with one comment

Autism news has been a little slow lately, but there’s still plenty of you interested in my previous posts based on the number of visits in the last few weeks, making today a milestone moment in the history of this blog.

The Autistic Journalist recorded its 5,000th hit today, less than a year after I toasted the 1,000th hit of this site. While my employment status is struggling, I find the slow but increasing growth of this site encouraging.

I don’t have any original material to contribute to honor this occasion, but I can offer some insight from Fox News via Reuters (don’t worry you politicians/pundits, lol) reporting on findings published by British scientists suggesting a 15-minute brain scan could be used in the future to detect autism.

The results came from testing 40 adults, half with autism and the other half not on the spectrum, and boasted an accuracy rating above 90% in detecting the condition. Using standard MRI machines, they analyzed structural changes in the brain’s gray matter. Scientists are hoping tests on children will produce similar results.

Obviously, the small sample size compromises this study to an extent. While intriguing, others may want a more expansive study to reduce margin of error. However, this marks the third story I’ve noted this year reporting on potential methods of discovering autism in the future. I discussed the cons of current testing before, requiring the need for a more objective supplement. Reuters also believes more education is needed, as they use a couple paragraphs to reiterate what autism is and the frequency level in the United States and Great Britain, where most autism cases and research appears. However, with media coverage continuing its shift to answering the questions they brought up in the last few years, the trend I’ve noticed regarding detection methods reveals two theories: an objective test for autism may be widespread within our lifetime, or the Internet is increasingly effective at spreading news not picked up by newspapers or traditional TV newscasts.

Whatever the reason, I’ve analyzed too many stories to rule out new detection possibilities as a coincidence (urine test, speech recognition software, brain scan). The question will eventually transform to which test comes out first, and how many will be available to a culture of paranoia.

Perhaps the best benefit out of this is the chance that people will finally stop inquiring about my thought process and focus on other topics within the autism spectrum.

Written by TheSportsBrain

August 25, 2010 at 10:23 pm