Diagnosing Autism From the Womb?

DIAGNOSING AUTISM FROM THE WOMB? A new study from researchers at the Yale School of Medicine offers a provocative idea: Doctors may be able to predict autism in a baby by testing the placenta at birth. Researchers tested the placentas of 13 children with autism and compared them with placentas from healthy children. They found a microscopic abnormality that was three times as common in children with autism, suggesting a possible way to test for an increased likelihood of autism in new babies. However, such a test remains hypothetical at this point. Next, researchers plan to do a larger study to see whether their results are confirmed in a bigger sample of children. These results were published this week in Biological Psychiatry.

AN ALZHEIMER'S RIDDLE Older adults can have brains that look plagued by Alzheimer's disease but not suffer any memory problems. Published in the journal Neurology, a study of 134 older men and women who didn't have any memory impairments at the time of their death finds that more than one-third would have been classified as having Alzheimer's disease on the basis of their brains. Researchers from Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, who performed the study, suggest that some people may have a "neural reserve" of brain capacity that allows them to withstand the deterioration associated with Alzheimer's disease.

CELL PHONE ON THE BRAIN Using a cell phone excites the brain, scientists say. Italian researchers found that brain activity increased for up to one hour in young men exposed to the electromagnetic fields emitted by a cell phone. However, an increase in brain activity could be good, bad, or neutral, and scientists have no idea whether cell-phone-derived brain activity is harmful or not. Writing in the Annals of Neurology, authors proposed that if the increase in brain activity were dangerous, the most vulnerable people would be those with a medical condition that could be affected by increased electrical activity in the brain, such as epilepsy.

STAT is a brief look at the latest medical research and is compiled by Joanna Schaffhausen, who holds a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience. She works in the ABC News Medical Unit, evaluating medical studies, abstracts and news releases.