SOURCE: Battelle


April 23, 2012 10:30 ET

Battelle Scientists Identify Potential Early Biomarker for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Breakthrough Could Help Autistic Children Receive Treatment Sooner

COLUMBUS, OH--(Marketwire - Apr 23, 2012) - With recent research finding that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects one in 88 children in the U.S., Battelle scientists have identified a low-cost urine test that potentially predicts the presence of this complex developmental disorder at an early age.

ASD, which is defined by behavioral characteristics, has been difficult for physicians to diagnose at an early age before these behaviors become more apparent (usually about two years of age or older).

The Battelle team of Drs. Nicholas Heyer and Diana Echeverria joined with Professor James Woods at the University of Washington's School of Public Health to evaluate the levels of porphyrins in the urine of children with ASD to determine if certain levels of specific porphyrins could predict ASD.

Identifying this link may have important clinical implications for diagnosis and treatment. The ability to detect porphyrins, a group of naturally occurring organic compounds, in a simple urine test allows for a rapid, low-cost and widely used screening test for identifying young children at a high risk for ASD.

Woods is a world expert in porphyrins. He collected urine samples from a study group of children with ASD and age-matched controls. Woods published his initial results indicating higher levels of porphyrins in children with ASD.

Subsequently, Heyer, a senior health research scientist in epidemiology at Battelle, led the analyses evaluating porphyrins as a potential biomarker of autism. His analyses indicated that levels of specific porphyrins were strong predictors of ASD and could distinguish up to one-third of the children with ASD without identifying any of the control children.

"This is significant because it means children may be diagnosed with ASD at an earlier age and can thus receive treatment sooner. Early treatment can lead to a better quality of life for children with ASD," Heyer said.

The findings were published in this month's edition of Autism Research, and coincide with Autism Awareness Month. The full article can be found

"The world-class work performed by Drs. Heyer and Echeverria in collaboration with Professor Woods represent Battelle's capacity and resolve to advance the diagnosis and treatment of health threats worldwide," said Barbara Kunz, president of Battelle Health and Life Sciences. "Their innovative contributions reflect Battelle's expertise in child and maternal health, as well as our proficiency in solving global health challenges."

Partial funding for this research was provided by Center Grant P30ES07033 to the University of Washington from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health. Additional funding was provided by the Autism Research Institute and the Wallace Research Foundation.

About Battelle
As the world's largest not-for-profit independent research and development organization, Battelle provides innovative solutions to the world's most pressing needs through its four global businesses: Laboratory Management; National Security; Health and Life Sciences; and Energy, Environment and Material Sciences. It advances scientific discovery and application by conducting $6.5 billion in global R&D annually through contract research, laboratory management and technology commercialization. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle oversees 22,000 employees in more than 130 locations worldwide, including seven national laboratories which Battelle manages or co-manages for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a nuclear energy lab in the United Kingdom.

Battelle also is one of the nation's leading charitable trusts focusing on societal and economic impact and actively supporting and promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

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