A recent study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry holds promise for a biomarker visible at birth: placenta folds. Until recent research regarding protein discrepancies and inflammation discernable in placentas, the fetal-packaging has generally discarded after birth. Considered to be simple bodily waste, the placenta is today only analyzed after 10-15% of births, usually inspected only after birth complications. Lead author of the study, Dr. Harvey J. Kliman of Yale School of Medicine, comments on the speculation his research proposal received from the medical community telling the New York Times that studying placentas was seen on par with “someone in the Navy wanting to scrub ships’ toilets with a toothbrush.”[i] Even co-author Dr. Cheryl K. Walker of The University of California’s Mind Institute admits hesitation in joining Kliman’s research team, believing him “a bit overzealous.”i But Walker claims the results were astonishing. Walker provided Kliman with 217 placenta samples, 117 of which were considered at-risk for autism because of sibling outcomes or familial history. Kliman analyzed the placentas for trophoblast inclusions, or abnormal folds, finding that 77 of the high-risk placentas had inclusions, with 48 having two or more, and 16 having between 5 and 15. This dispersion is significant in comparison to the low-risk placentas, two-thirds of which had no inclusions, and none of which had more than two. The children belonging to the placentas of the study are now between 2 and 5 years of age, so the researchers are waiting to draw conclusions regarding the rate of autism within the sample for at least another year to ensure accurate diagnoses. If the association between trophoblast inclusions and autism spectrum disorder is found, then placentas could serve as a biomarker upon birth allowing parents to engage early interventions.
[i] “Study Ties Autism Risk to Creases in Placenta.” New York Times. N.p., 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/health/study-ties-autism-risk-to-creases-in-placenta.html>.