By Amy Wadas

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Researchers at Duquesne University have created biomarker measurements that may help identify children who are developing autism.

Dr. Howard “Skip” Kingston, a chemistry professor at Duquesne University, said he’s been waiting for this day for 15 years.

Kingston and his research team have been working on a way to basically stop autism from developing, before it starts.

They created a biomarker, or a measurement that would read if a child is prone to autism. Several tests on children were conducted and while some of the kids came back with a healthy immune system, others, not as much.

“Their immune system is not protecting them as well, therefore leaving them vulnerable and of course one of the final stages is a permanently damaged brain or could be,” said Kingston.

The biomarkers act as indicators to let doctors see if a child could develop autism, allowing them to intervene early.

After years of conducting various studies, Duquesne’s researchers and others have found that autism is a physical disease.

Amy Wadas: “The key here is finding this early enough that if you think that they could develop full blown autism later on in life, this will really prevent their brain from being damaged?”
Kingston: “Yes.”

Kingston said doctors are encountering some problems right now.

“They’re not allowed to work on a child they can’t diagnose. So we now have these biomarkers that will allow us for them to see this child is about to head down this road,” said Kingston.

Kingston’s research team is also in the process of developing biomarker testing methods where a mother can prick her child’s finger to draw blood and place it on this blood card. The blood card is read in a machine to determine if a child has a higher risk of developing autism. He hopes the blood cards will be available within the year.

Meantime, Kingston said a lot of people point to genetics as a cause for autism when he says the environment may actually be to blame.

While some doctors are using biomarker measurements with their patients right now, he hopes more will do the same in the future.

The team is in the process of validating 21 biomarkers.