Clues to risk of autism measurable by creases in placenta


Dr. Harvey J. Kliman, research scientist at Yale School of Medicine, initiated study

A new study raises the possibility that analyzing the placenta after birth may provide clues to a child’s risk for developing autism. The study, which analyzed placentas from 217 births, found that in families at high genetic risk for having an autistic child, placentas were significantly more likely to have abnormal folds and creases.

“It’s quite stark,” said Dr. Cheryl K. Walker, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Mind Institute at the University of California, Davis, and a co-author of the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. “Placentas from babies at risk for autism, clearly there’s something quite different about them.”

Researchers will not know until at least next year how many of the children, who are between 2 and 5, whose placentas were studied will be found to have autism. Experts said, however, that if researchers find that children with autism had more placental folds, called trophoblast inclusions, visible after birth, the condition could become an early indicator or biomarker for babies at high risk for the disorder…

The research potentially marks a new frontier, not only for autism, but also for the significance of the placenta, long considered an after-birth afterthought. Now, only 10 percent to 15 percent of placentas are analyzed, usually after pregnancy complications or a newborn’s death…

Dr. Jonathan L. Hecht, associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, said the study was intriguing and “probably true if it finds an association between these trophoblast inclusions and autism.” But he said that inclusions were the placenta’s way of responding to many kinds of stress, so they might turn out not to be specific enough to predict autism.

Dr. Harvey Kliman calls inclusions a “check-engine light, a marker of: something’s wrong, but I don’t know what it is.”

If you keep on driving your car after the warning lights come on – well, the expense, the possible failure of your automobile is your own fault. One would hope you pay at least as much attention to warning signs about your children.

4 thoughts on “Clues to risk of autism measurable by creases in placenta

    • moss says:

      I agree that pre-birth analysis might aid in prep for early treatment. I don’t know where resolution has gotten to with ultrasound; but, I imagine that might aid.

      It will take more research on actual cause of the condition before symptoms can prompt treatment though. Plus, I poisonally think it’s over-diagnosed.

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