A team from the University of Warwick and the University of Bologna have created an experimental blood test that could help detect autism in children. The tests look for damage to certain proteins that have been shown to be higher in children with autism spectrum disorders. The new research was recently published in the journal Molecular Autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complicated neurological condition that we still understand little about. Autism mainly affects social interaction while also causing a wide spectrum of behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, anxiety, and speech disturbances. There is no single medical test that can diagnose it.

The Autism Society estimates that more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. live with autism spectrum disorders. The CDC estimates that one in 68 children in the U.S. has autism. Children can start to show visible signs of autism by the age of 18 months.

If a child is suspected of having autism, doctors carry out a series of behavioral tests, which may not give an accurate diagnosis. It often takes years to confirm a suspected case. A biological test, like a blood test, would provide a faster and more definitive diagnosis.

In this latest study, European researchers looked at the blood and urine of 38 Italian children diagnosed with ASD. The children with autism were 7 and a half years old, on average. The blood and urine samples were then compared them to a similarly matched control group of 31 children who did not have autism. The children with autism were found to have greater protein damage in their blood plasma.

The researchers created four different predictive algorithms based on the presence of these biomarkers. The most successful algorithm tried to tell whether a child had ASD or not by looking for higher levels of a molecule called dityrosine and proteins or fats altered by contact with glucose. This algorithm was able to predict if a child had autism with 90 percent accuracy, and if a child didn’t with 87 percent accuracy.

The study requires further research on a larger number of children to determine whether the results are conclusive. Lead author Naila Rabbani, a biologist at the University of Warwick in the UK, and her colleagues also plan to study the blood of even younger children to see whether the biomarkers can also be used to predict the severity of someone’s autism.