new technology soon to be tested on infants for earlier diagnosis

French researchers will test new medical imaging technology on infant brains in 2023 in the hope of diagnosing cases of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) much sooner, the promoters of the project explained on Monday, November 7, 2022.

As easy to use and non-invasive as an ultrasound, this new device can detect minute changes in circulation and therefore in nerve cell activity.

This could allow areas of the brain that seem to function to be abnormal to be mapped and thus lead to very early diagnosis of autism or TND, neuroscientist Pierre Gressens, Inserm researcher and Associate Director of the Center, explained during a press conference. Scientific Interest Group (GIS) “Autism and TND”.

“The Importance of Early Diagnosis”

However, in autism research “one part of the data is consistent, it is the importance of diagnosing as early as possible”which allows for more effective treatment, emphasizes Claire Companion, Interministerial Delegate for the National Autism and TND Strategy.

In recent years, the average age at diagnosis has decreased: “Today is less than five years old, but it’s still too much”, noted Claire Companion. For Catherine Barthélemy, child psychiatrist and director of GIS, “The ideal would be to intervene before six months or a year”.

A new medical imaging device promoted by French startup Iconeus uses technologies developed by researchers from Inserm and CNRS.

An MRI (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging) examination would give almost the same results, but requires placing a small patient inside the machine, which is difficult to envisage for simple newborn screening.

Babies born prematurely are more at risk

The easier-to-use and less expensive Iconeus device was tested on mice: by placing a probe on the heads of rodents, scientists showed which areas of their brains are activated when their whiskers are touched.

In early 2023, the operation of the device will be tested on several dozen babies at the Robert-Debreu Hospital in Paris. Doctors will compare brain images taken from babies born at term with images of babies born prematurely – the latter are thought to have a higher risk of developing autism.

The researchers will then move on to the second phase, between 2023 and 2026: several hundred babies will be subjected to this new imaging study, and then over several years to determine if there are abnormal signals that can be seen on brain images. be confirmed by conventional methods of diagnosing autism.