Researchers at Upstate Medical University are almost ready to send a test to market that would use saliva to help determine if a child is autistic.
The average age a child is diagnosed with autism is 4.5. But researchers at Upstate say testing the microRNA found in the saliva of a toddler can help doctors determine if a child is autistic sooner than that. Principal investigator Dr. Frank Middleton says that’s important because earlier treatment can help the outcomes of children facing an autism diagnosis.
"That’s what we have to do a better job of," Middleton said. "And this with this diagnosis, we’re proposing to enter into the tool kit of the primary care doctor or developmental specialist something that we think can advance that.”
Middleton says researchers have already collected saliva from more than 400 children, and will expand those studies in the coming months.
Quadrant Epigenetics LLC, a company in Syracuse, has been working with Upstate on this research. Cindy Dowd Greene, president of Quadrant Epigenetics and COO of Quadrant Biosciences in Syracuse, says they are ready to offer it to pediatric development specialists by the end of the year. Greene says so far, market surveys of clinicians and families show an intense interest.
“We're not launching it as this is the diagnosis," Greene said. "But this is an assessment that gives them more information that helps them make that diagnosis, because it is a difficult diagnosis.”
Greene says at this point, insurance companies won’t pay for the more than $900 test. But she expects that to change as more clinical results come in, along with support from parents and the medical community.
There is no medical test currently that can diagnose autism, a developmental disability that often affects a child's ability to communicate and interact with others.