Researcher names protein as plausible autism biomarker

Researchers have yet to crack the code on how to predict whether an individual will develop autism. But Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine scientist Gary Steinman has uncovered a potential connection between autism and a growth protein, a possible biomarker found in umbilical cord blood that may shed some light on the subject.

The protein, dubbed insulin-like growth factor (IGF), stimulates certain brain cells to provide myelin--an insulating material--around developing nerves. Myelin helps the brain cells transmit messages about physical functions, sensory perception and emotions. Without enough IGF, individuals do not have the proper amount of myelin, which may harm pathway development. Steinman thinks researchers should focus on the relationship between neonatal IGF levels and autism.

In an article published in Medical Hypotheses, Steinman proposes sampling umbilical cord blood at birth to measure IGF. Data collected at birth would then be compared with a neurologic evaluation of the baby at 18 to 26 months of age to determine whether depressed levels of IGF indicated the development of autism. If the study proves successful, researchers could start detecting depressed IGF levels in amniotic fluid during pregnancy.

"Further investigation into whether pharmaceutical treatment in the early postnatal period of newborns with a suspicion of a tendency of developing autism could reverse the effects of having had pathologically low levels of IGF while in utero and reduced IGF in their umbilical cord blood at birth would be a next step," Steinman said in a statement.

In the United States, about 125 new autism cases are reported daily. That's 1 in 88 live births. No treatment for or prevention of autism now exists, so understanding its biomarkers could prove valuable to finding answers.

- read the release