HONG KONG, March 15
A scientist from Hong Kong has developed a method to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to scan the retinas of children as young as six to detect early autism or the risk of autism and hopes to develop a commercial product this year.
Retinal scintigraphy can help improve early detection and treatment outcomes in children, said Benny Zee, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“The importance of starting early intervention is that they keep growing, they still develop. So there is a greater chance of success,” Zee said.
His method uses a high-resolution camera with new computer software that analyzes a combination of factors, including the layers of fibers and blood vessels in the eye.
The technology can be used to identify children at risk for autism and bring them into treatment programs earlier, Zee said.
Seventy children were tested using the technology, 46 with autism and a control group of 24. The technology was able to identify children with autism 95.7 percent of the time. The average age tested was 13, with the youngest being six.
Zee’s results were published in EClinicalMedicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Autism specialists welcomed his findings, but said there remains a huge stigma, with parents often reluctant to believe their children have autism even when there are obvious signs.
“Many times parents will be in denial first,” said Dr. Caleb Knight, who runs a private autism treatment center.
“If you had a medical test or a biological marker like this, it might help the parents not to refuse for longer periods of time and therefore the child would receive treatment more quickly.”
Children with autism must wait around 80 weeks to see a specialist in the public medical sector, according to an emailed statement from the Hong Kong government.
Zee told Reuters his research was intended to be an additional tool to a professional assessment by licensed medical professionals. Reuters