Duquesne University Research Team Sets Lofty Goal of Stopping Autism Pathology as it Develops

February 28, 2020

Blood Test Measures Biomarkers of Toxic Exposures and Antioxidant Capacity

CBS 2 in Pittsburgh reports on innovative autism research coming from Duquesne University, which just announced a biomarker test that identifies children in the process of developing autism. Testing could lead to treatments that stop the progression before brain pathology worsens. In the future, this test may even help identify newborns at risk of developing the disorder.

The biomarker test uses a drop of blood taken from the child’s finger which is then transferred into an instrument called a mass spectrometry detector. The detector measures biomarkers relating to the child’s chemical toxin exposure and the levels of two forms of glutathione (reduced and oxidized). Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant that is stored inside of the body and is needed in the detoxification process. A recent study showed that children with autism tend to have altered ratios of the two glutathione forms, making them more prone to neurological damage from environmental chemicals and toxins. This damage could be tied to the development of autism.

Medical professionals can use these biomarker results in order to target exact treatments for these exposures and deficiencies. If action can be taken early before damage progresses or before an autism diagnosis is acquired, improved neurological development and health may occur for the child.

Dr. Howard “Skip” Kingston, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, addresses this subject, “One of the issues was that doctors couldn’t treat autism without a diagnosis, but by that time brain damage had already occurred. We may be able to intervene and treat patients before brain pathology worsens.”

Duquesne University along with Dr. Kingston feel that mass spectrometry detectors and biomarker testing is “the future of medicine.” If integrated with newborn screenings, readings from mass spectrometry detectors may be able to identify babies with lower reduced to oxidized glutathione ratios. With this knowledge, exposure to environmental toxins could be abated or kept at a minimum for at risk infants, who may never end up developing neurological damage. Avoiding early neurological damage could theoretically reduce the immense burden of disability from autism.


Amy Wadas. Duquesne University Researchers Create Biomarkers That Could Help Identify Children Developing Autism. KDKA Pittsburgh. Publish Date: February 20, 2020

Duquesne University. Researchers Create Biomarker that May Help Identify Children Developing Autism. Publish Date: February 19, 2020

Hannah Boucher. Duquesne research team finds early autism markers. The Duquesne Duke.

Faber S, Fahrenholz T, Wolle MM, Kern JC 2nd, Pamuku M, Miller L, Jamrom J, Skip Kingston HM. Chronic exposure to xenobiotic pollution leads to significantly higher total glutathione and lower reduced to oxidized glutathione ratio in red blood cells of children with autism. Free Radic Biol Med. 2019 Apr;134:666-677. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2019.02.009. Epub 2019 Feb 11.

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