Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed two tests that could potentially detect autism in children. Both tests, one blood, and one urine are based on a previously discovered link between damage to proteins in blood plasma and autism. The team believes the tests to be the first of their kind, and hope that they could help improve early detection of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The study, published in the journal Molecular Autism, confirmed previous research that had linked certain mutations in amino acid transporters with ASD. Since proteins in blood plasma can be damaged by two processes, oxidation and glycation, and the researchers developed tests that can detect that damage.
Armed with this knowledge and using the most reliable of the tests they developed, the team took urine and blood samples from 38 children with ASD, as well as a control group of 31 children who had not been diagnosed with ASD. With the help of an artificial intelligence (AI)-developed algorithm, the team figured out how the two groups were chemically different.
“With further testing we may reveal specific plasma and urinary profiles or “fingerprints” of compounds with damaging modifications,”, Reader of Experimental Systems Biology at the University of Warwick and the research team’s lead. “This may help us improve the diagnosis of ASD and point the way to new causes of ASD.”
Researchers still do not completely understand why people develop autism. About 30-35% of cases of ASD are linked to genetic variants, but there is no exact formula for predicting autism. As with many other conditions, genetics, environment, and other factors all play a role. In recent years, there’s even been evidence proposed that gut bacteria could indicate whether or not a person has an ASD.
Finding biomarkers for ASD wouldn’t be far off what the team from Warwick has accomplished, as their research demonstrated that measuring protein damage could be a reliable indicator of whether or not a child has ASD.
““Our discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention,” said Rabbani, “We hope the tests will also reveal new causative factors.””
ASD cases are characterized by a wide variety of symptoms that can range from mild behavioral issues to debilitating compulsive behavior, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and much more. Because its symptoms are so varied and the causes aren’t yet fully understand, diagnosis and treatment can be an arduous journey.
If tests can be developed that allow families to receive a diagnosis sooner, it will give them the ability to seek intervention earlier, too. Which can be essential for helping kids with ASD, and their families, navigate the world and improve their quality of life.
When it comes to the future of clean and safe transportation, all bets seem to be on electric autonomous vehicles. These combine two of today’s most advanced technologies — electric motors and self-driving software. While both have seen much improvement, there’s still a lot of room for further development.
Which is why not every carmaker is particularly keen on the regular electric motor to power their next-generation driverless vehicles. One such car manufacturer is South Korea’s Hyundai, which unveiled the Nexo at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
A crossover SUV that runs on hydrogen fuel, the Nexo has a range of approximately 800 km (500 miles) and is capable of a full refuel in only three to five minutes. When it comes out this March in Korea, refueling would mean taking the Nexo to dedicated Hydrogen Refueling Stations.
The Nexo comes with semi-autonomous technology that Hyundai promises will be advanced to Level 4 autonomy by 2021. That might not be much of a stretch, though, considering the Nexo’s recent driving demonstration performance earlier this February.
According to reports, the Nexo SUV set a record for autonomous driving on a highway when it completed 190 km (118 miles) on full “cruise” mode. The stretch was managed by three Nexo SUVs and two Genesis G80s — from Hyundai’s luxury brand — outfitted with self-driving systems that follow Level 4 autonomy standards as described by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
It’s reportedly the first time a self-driving vehicle traveled more than 100 km (62 miles) at the maximum allowable speeds of up to 110 km/h (68 mph). All the while, the vehicles successfully overtook slower vehicles, changed lanes, and used automated toll gates — all without human intervention.
“We conducted a significant number of highway test drives amounting to hundreds of thousands of kilometers traveled, which enabled them to accumulate a vast amount of data that helped enhance the performance of our self-driving vehicles,” Hyundai said, a local news outlet reports.
This kind of performance demands more than the typical electric car battery, Hyundai global’s vice chairman Chung Eui-sun told CarAdvice at CES. He explained how vehicles with Level 4 autonomy (as well as Level 5) would require energy that could power the vehicle’s onboard processing computer while it handles 200-300 terabytes of data. “[Pure] electric vehicle battery is not enough for that, so maybe fuel cell can cover that amount of data processing,” explained Eui-sun.
Best of all, the only “waste” from hydrogen fuel-powered vehicles is water vapor, which could be collected and stored for later use.
The technology isn’t exactly new, although uptake has been rather slow because of particular hurdles. Hyundai developed their first hydrogen fuel cell engine in 1998, and has since worked on perfecting the technology. Now, alongside Hyundai, other carmakers are looking at hydrogen fuel cells again for developing cleaner vehicles.