Testing of umbilical cord blood could identify a possible protein biomarker for autism

Oct. 31, 2013

In an article published recently in Medical Hypotheses, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine researchers Gary Steinman, MD, PhD, and David Mankatu, MD, Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, call for the testing of umbilical cord blood for levels of a growth protein that could help predict an infant's propensity to later develop autism. Based on an analysis of findings in prior studies, they propose that depressed levels of a protein called insulin-like growth factor (IGF) could potentially serve as a biomarker that could anticipate autism occurrence.

Their research points to numerous studies that powerfully link IGF with a number of growth and neural functions. They note that breastfeeding is a relatively abundant source of the protein and suggest that IGF delivered via breastfeeding could compensate for any inborn deficiency of the growth factor in newborns.

If IGF is ultimately determined to be a biomarker for the later appearance of autistic characteristics, the researchers say, a simple biomarker blood test to assess protein levels could be developed. Newborns whose innate supply of IGF is found to be low could receive supplemental amounts of the protein, via breastfeeding or other means, that could then contribute to more effective brain function as the baby develops into an active child.

If corroborated, the authors’ theory could also point to potential risks to pregnant women and women of child-bearing age associated with the intake of drugs that lower IGF levels, such as Somavert, Sandostatin, Parlodel, and several experimental IGF receptor antagonists. Read the study abstract.