In our weekly round-up of local and national autism-related news that has piqued our interest, we’re looking at the roles of mosquitos and the pesticide used to control them as a new study draws a connection between the pesticides and increased autism rates. On the other side, we will be looking at a major new study recently published looking at a crucial new blood biomarker that could help lead to earlier diagnoses.

First up, in an article published on WebMD, a recent study looked at a group of children in a swampy area of New York State and found that children in the area where pesticides had been used on mosquitoes, those children saw a higher occurrence of autism diagnoses compared to neighboring areas. In fact, researchers found that children living in a swampy area in Central New York were 25% more likely to be diagnosed with autism.

However, according to researcher Dr. Steven Hicks, his team’s findings do not conclusively demonstrate that aerial pesticides in fact raise the risk of autism. “This study really brings up more questions than answers,” he said. “We need more research before taking any public action on pesticide use.” Part of the reasoning behind this restraint stems from the fact that these communities also use the pesticides to protect against West Nile Virus.

Nonetheless, this is not the first study to shine a light on the potential connection between pesticides and autism. For example, there was a study from two years ago that got some news attention. California researchers discovered that pregnant women who lived within a mile of pesticide-treated crops had an increased risk of giving birth to a child with autism, compared to those pregnant women living over a mile away. According to Hicks, the chemicals pinpointed in the California study belonged to the pyrethroid pesticides group.

Moving onto a different and exciting study, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a blood biomarker that may aid in earlier diagnosis of children with ASD. “Numerous investigators have long sought a biomarker for ASD,” said Dr. Dwight German, study senior author and Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “The blood biomarker reported here along with others we are testing can represent a useful test with over 80 percent accuracy in identifying ASD.”

The group chose blood pathogens as their subject of study based on other research that found issues with the immune system common in those with autism. Researchers found that boys with ASD had significantly reduced levels of a serum IgG1 antibody. Investigating further, researchers analyzed 25 peptoid compounds that bound to IgG1 and zeroed in on one — ASD1 — that was 66 percent accurate in diagnosing ASD. When combined with thyroid stimulating hormone level measurements, the ASD1-binding biomarker was 73 percent accurate at diagnosis.

What all this science talk means is that researchers now believe they may have a reliable biomarker that can help diagnose autism at the infant stage. While more female subjects are needed to round out the research, things certainly look promising.