If scientists can find distinctive patterns of chemicals in the urine of children with autism, a diagnostic test based on biology -- so far elusive -- could be within reach
On her laptop computer one recent afternoon, University at Buffalo researcher Charmion Cruickshank calls up a mass spectrometry readout showing the breakdown of chemicals in the urine of a child with autism.
She has similar information for nine other children -- four with the disorder and five without -- and she has spent the past few years sifting through this puzzle of data for autism's chemical clues.
The goal of the research, led by UB chemist Troy Wood, is to pinpoint an array of molecular compounds that appear in distinct amounts in the urine of children with autism. If the team is successful, a biological test for diagnosing the disorder -- so far elusive -- could be within reach.
Such a test would provide clinicians with a more objective way of identifying autism, which is currently diagnosed by observing behavior.
"We're trying to understand, at the molecular level, how autism is occurring and manifesting itself," said Wood, an associate professor of chemistry. "A biological test for autism could assist with early diagnosis, which is critical because if you can identify children with autism early in life, the outcome is going to be better."