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Doctors Tout 'Most Promising Ever' Biological Autism Test03:32
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Doctors at McLean Hospital in Belmont say they've come up with a biological way to test for autism — a new method that could eventually replace the subjective test currently used to diagnose the disorder.

This image shows a deviation in the wiring of the brain that is linked to autism. (Courtesy of McLean Hospital)
This image shows a deviation in the wiring of the brain that is linked to autism. (Courtesy of McLean Hospital)

The proposed method uses a MRI to measure water diffusion in the brain. The test was able to detect high-functioning autism with 94 percent accuracy.

"(The method is) significant because even though autism was first recognized almost 70 years ago, there is no biological indicator of its presence that can be used," said Dr. Nicholas Lange, the study's lead author and director of the neurostatistics laboratory at McLean, on Morning Edition Thursday.

"Autism is diagnosed by a very well-structured, four-hour interview with the parents and also an hour-long observation with the child," Lange said. "Now this subjective test is well-regarded across the world — there is some controversy with it — but my point is it takes a doctor's call, it takes a subjective judgment, which may or may not be repeatable depending upon whom you talk with, whom you get the test from."

Though Lange cautioned his test is not ready for clinical use yet, he said, "The results show it's the most promising ever, it's the best thus far of any such potential biological marker on a worldwide search."

This program aired on December 2, 2010.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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