Washington: A new study has proposed that protein called insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which is delivered via breastfeeding, could help predict an infant's propensity to later develop autism.
The study by Touro researcher, Gary Steinman, points to numerous prior studies that powerfully link IGF with a number of growth and neural functions.
Steinman further pointed to breastfeeding as a relatively abundant source of the protein. He says that IGF delivered via breastfeeding would compensate for any inborn deficiency of the growth factor in newborns.
"By assessing our own research, along with dozens of other relevant studies, there is a strong case to be made that IGF - known to be deeply involved in the normal growth and development of babies' brain cells - also serves a biomarker for autism," said Dr. Steinman.
"This leads to two conclusions. First, we need to more deeply assess this hypothesis by conducting umbilical cord blood tests that measure neonatal levels of this growth factor, and then match those results against future autism occurrence in the maturing child.
"Second, those who embrace the hypothesis that IGF is indeed an autism biomarker should advocate and encourage breastfeeding as a highly accessible means of supplementing an infant's natural levels of the protein."
If a newborn's innate supply of IGF were found to be low, Steinman said, the infant could receive supplemental amounts of the protein - via breastfeeding or through other relatively simple means - that could then contribute to more-effective brain function as the baby develops into an active child.
Dr. Steinman says that if IGF were ultimately determined to be a biomarker for the later appearance of autistic characteristics, then researchers would be obligated to act swiftly to develop a simple biomarker blood test to assess protein levels.
The study is published in journal Medical Hypotheses.