Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK have developed new blood and urine tests that will detect autism in children by checking for damaged proteins.

The tests are intended to help in early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which are a wide range of developmental conditions that are difficult to identify during initial stages.

Through the new tests, the researchers expect to provide earlier intervention and appropriate treatment for children suffering from the condition.

The university team based the latest research on their finding that damage caused by oxidation and glycation processes to proteins in blood plasma is linked to ASD.

They found that measuring for higher levels of the oxidation marker dityrosine (DT) and sugar-modified compounds called advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) is the most reliable test for ASD in children.

While genetic causes led to the disorder in 30-35% of children, the remaining were found to be due to a combination of environmental factors, multiple mutations, and rare genetic variants.

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In collaboration with the University of Bologna in Italy, the researchers examined blood and urine samples from a group of 38 ASD children and a control arm of 31 children. They discovered chemical differences between them.

“This may help us improve the diagnosis of ASD and point the way to new causes of ASD.”

They further partnered with the University of Birmingham, to use artificial intelligence algorithms for combining the changes in various compounds to develop a new mathematical equation or algorithm that could differentiate ASD from controls better than the existing methods.

University of Warwick Experimental Systems Biology reader Dr Naila Rabbani said: “Our discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention.

“We hope the tests will also reveal new causative factors.

“With further testing, we may reveal specific plasma and urinary profiles or fingerprints of compounds with damaging modifications.

“This may help us improve the diagnosis of ASD and point the way to new causes of ASD.”

Rabbani and team plan to validate the performance of the new test in additional groups of children, and will also establish its capability to detect ASD early and to assess the working of treatments.