Scientists have determined there is no one cause of autism. In fact, there may be several, and a recent examination of baby teeth may have helped them identity another, according to a new report.
Researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City recently conducted a study to determine how children metabolize metals.
To do so, they examined the baby teeth of 200 twins in Sweden. They uncovered that a new layer of tooth is formed every day as kids develop in the womb and throughout early childhood. In each layer, the “growth rings” capture evidence of many of the chemicals and metals, including zinc and copper, that naturally circulate in the body.
The analysts then used lasers to sample the layers and reconstruct past exposures to zinc and copper in 10-day windows. They compared the process to using growth rings on a tree to determine a tree’s growth history.
After analyzing the results, they found that the zinc and copper cycles were abnormal in kids with autism. While copper and zinc levels naturally fluctuate, the length of the cycles were shorter and more irregular in kids with autism, compared to kids without it.
The scientists tested the same method on children in the United States and United Kingdom, yielding the same results. With the data, they created an algorithm that was 90 percent accurate in distinguishing teeth that belonged to children with autism from those without it.
Alycia Halladay, the chief science officer of the Autism Science Foundation, called the study “exciting” and “fascinating.”
“Researchers and scientists are always looking at ways to biologically identify exposures that occur during pregnancy and in the first year of life that’s as noninvasive as possible,” explained Halladay, who was not a part of the trial. “This doesn’t look at an exposure, but it does look at a biological process during that critical time. For that reason, it’s very interesting.”
The scientists do not yet understand the cause of the irregular zinc and copper cycles. More examination of the blood, genes, enzymes and other biological processes of children with autism would be needed to draw further conclusions.
They’d also like to explore whether there is an association between metal metabolic cycles and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
However, Halladay believes researchers are off to a great start and encourages families to follow and participate in studies about autism.
“You may be able to participate in research studies without even trying,” she said. “You can help studies like this and understand autism just by keeping your kids’ baby teeth.”
Learn more about their experiment here, which was published in the Scientific Advances journal.