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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 7th July 2017 > THE AUTISM PARADOX


Tests for risk of a child being born with the condition are elusive and controversial


MORE THAN a decade ago, Judy Van de Water, a neuroimmunologist, decided to follow her instincts and research a condition she knew nothing about. Van de Water, now a lead scientist at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute—an international research center for neurodevelopmental disorders—had spent her career studying the immune system. But, in 2000 she stumbled upon a compelling area of research: the immunobiology of autism.

Through studies on mice, rats and rhesus macaques and, eventually, retrospective prospective analyses of children diagnosed with autism and their mothers, Van de Water identified eight autoantibodies made by a mother’s immune system that appear to be linked with autism risk if they cross the placenta. Van de Water, who is also a researcher in the department of internal medicine at the UC Davis, refers to her discovery as maternal autoantibody-related autism or MAR autism. The concept is controversial, and it soon became more so when Van de Water started to develop a test to measure these biomarkers in a woman hoping to conceive, thereby predicting her risk for having a child who develops autism.

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CHOP AND CHANGE This week, we take a look at how scientists are altering our genetic code and engineering new forms of material that improve nature. Everything from flowers that can detect bombs to bacteria that secrete oil.