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(CBSNEWS) – Experimental research may lead to a new method to diagnose infants with autism before symptoms show.

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In what they say is a first-of-its-kind study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of infants at high risk for autism – those whose older siblings had the disorder – at 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months of age.

From the scans, researchers were able to correctly predict 80 percent of those infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 2 years of age.

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The results revealed that early brain development biomarkers could be helpful in determining which high-risk babies will go on to develop autism.

“We see an increased rate of growth in the outer surface of the brain, the folds, the sort of waviness of the surface that’s followed by an overgrowth of the brain in the second year,” senior study author Joseph Piven, M.D., of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told CBS News.

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