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Autism Awareness: Clinic Working on Test for Early Detection

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CLEVELAND-- A leading healthcare facility in Northeast Ohio is working on new autism-related research that could change millions of lives.

Doctors and researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are working to develop a new urine test.  It could help detect autism before symptoms typically show up in kids around age two.

“It’s not months. It’s not weeks. It’s gonna be years,” said Dr. Charis Eng from the Genomic Medicine Institute. She’s working on the urine test that is still in the early stages.

Researchers are using a small sample of participants to hopefully find a way to diagnose autism early in life. According to researchers, there are some metabolites and amino acids in the urine that are different between people with autism and people without autism.

“I think we need a bigger sample size,” said Dr. Eng. “We need more patients to participate and we like to see this replicated because in medicine we want to be sure before we bring it to clinical practice.”

Susan Young has an 18-year-old daughter with autism who struggled in the early stages of her life. “If she had been diagnosed when she was four or if she would’ve been diagnosed when she was five, we would’ve, she would’ve had a lot different life,” said Young.

“[Early detection] can make a huge difference,” said Dr. Thomas Frazier from the Autism Center at the Cleveland Clinic.  “We know from research that if a child gets early intensive behaviorally based intervention, that child is going to be better - in some kids it can be a lot better.”

Dr. Frazier dedicates his life to research and working with children with autism. He is also the father of two kids, including his 10-year-old who has severe autism.

“Children with autism are a blessing,” said Dr. Frazier. "My son has been - has given my life meaning in many ways that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. He’s also taught me to be patient. He’s taught me to be a better communicator and a better dad.”

His son keeps him motivated, but so does the possibility of making a long-term difference for the millions of families impacted by autism.

“In the vast majority of cases, it’s not realistic to talk about a cure right now,” said Dr. Frazier. “I think, as we learn more about the biology of autism, I think we're going to see better biological treatments come down.”

Thanks to all of her research, Dr. Eng already discovered a gene mutation that predisposes people to certain kinds of cancer that can also be linked with autism.

This major breakthrough could be used with other research to make further progress in the fight against the developmental disorder.

“This is the time to look at common processes but different diseases and this is how I founded my institute, the Genomic Medicine Institute here in the Lerner Research Institute is founded on the principle of studying common processes but leading to different diseases,” said Dr. Eng.

Dr. Eng said she committed her life to the cause and she wants her research to offer hope for families.

“I always say, when I’m a physician and sit in front of my patient and family, I’m helping one person and family – [that’s] very important. But when I do research and it’s successful, I’m helping hundreds of thousands, millions, around the world.”

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