Aim of the project

This novel and challenging research project involves scanning the brains of babies to see who are more likely to be autistic. Researchers are scanning autistic women who are pregnant, to understand why that child has an increased chance of developing autism compared to a child of a parent without autism.

It is now possible to scan the fetal brain during pregnancy using MRI, and again at birth. Such information will reveal how the brain of a baby who goes on to develop autism differs from a typical baby, at the earliest point of development. Each baby has 2 brain scans (one during pregnancy, and one at birth).

Importance of research

This study investigates early infant development to identify biomarkers that may be predictive of autism. Infant siblings of autistic children have a 20 fold risk of being autistic themselves compared to children without autistic siblings. This study of a first degree relative (such as parent or sibling) with an autistic diagnosis allows the potential study of the early emergence of autism and its associated features.

The aim is to see if we can predict which babies will develop autism from their early brain and behaviour measures.  In the future, we hope that this information will help to ensure support for babies and young children from an earlier age. This research is not being carried out with the aim of prenatal screening or with a view to termination, since this does not align with our ethical values of respecting autistic people.

Scientists involved

  • Dr Rosie Holt
  • Ezra Aydin
  • Sarah Hampton

Key findings

Fetal scans are in progress.  Data is due to be analysed and results submitted by January 2019