A researcher at the Imperial College in London says he may have found a "chemical fingerprint" in the urine of children with autism that can determine whether or not autism is truly present. His findings are based on the assumption that people with autism have gastrointestinal issues which change their digestive chemistry.
While the possibility of a simple, definitive test for autism is extraordinarily compelling, there are plenty of questions to raise about its validity. I've written the researcher with specific concerns, and hope to hear back from him soon. Most important, of course, is the very basic question: "do people with autism really have more GI issues than other people?" Quite a few studies have suggested that this IS the case -- but many other studies suggest that it is NOT the case. Just last week, a study came out which shows that special diets are NOT effective for autism, and last year a study from the Mayo Clinic showed that children with autism are not more likely to have GI issues than anyone else.
Bearing all these caveats in mind, here is a portion of the press release from the Imperial College:
People with autism are also known to suffer from gastrointestinal disorders and they have a different makeup of bacteria in their guts from non-autistic people.
Today's research shows that it is possible to distinguish between autistic and non-autistic children by looking at the by-products of gut bacteria and the body's metabolic processes in the children's urine. The exact biological significance of gastrointestinal disorders in the development of autism is unknown.
The distinctive urinary metabolic fingerprint for autism identified in today's study could form the basis of a non-invasive test that might help diagnose autism earlier.
I look forward to reporting more fully on this intriguing but problematic research.