Despite moves to use brain imaging scans to diagnose autism, one expert urges that the biological basis for the disorder must be understood before technology can be trusted with the diagnosis.
In the current issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Nicholas Lange believes scientists should focus on conducting large, long-term multicenter studies to identify the biological basis of the disorder.
“Several studies in the past two years have claimed that brain scans can diagnose autism, but this assertion is deeply flawed,” said Lange, an associate professor of Psychiatry and Biostatistics at Harvard Medical School.
“To diagnose autism reliably, we need to better understand what goes awry in people with the disorder. Until its solid biological basis is found, any attempt to use brain imaging to diagnose autism will be futile.”
Although Lange cautions against current use of brain imaging as a diagnostic tool, he is strong proponents of using this technology to help scientists better understand autism.
As the capability of brain imaging technology expands via functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and volumetric MRI, researchers have made important discoveries related to early brain enlargement in the disorder.
“Brain scans have led to these extremely valuable advances, and, with each discovery, we are getting closer to solving the autism pathology puzzle,” said Lange.
“What individuals with autism and their parents urgently need is for us to carry out large-scale studies that lead us to find reliable, sensitive and specific biological markers of autism with high predictive value that allow clinicians to identify interventions that will improve the lives of people with the disorder.”
Source: McLean Hospital