A new study suggests that doctors can gauge a newborn's chances of developing autism by looking at the baby's placenta, reports USA Today and the New York Times. The more unusual folds and creases it has, the greater the risk. The study looked at 217 placentas from a mix of high-risk and low-risk babies, and found that placental folds were much more common in the high-risk infants—those with a family history. "It's quite stark," says one of the study's authors, noting "clearly there's something quite different about them."
The subjects in the study are now between ages 2 and 5, and researchers won't know for another year or so whether they will develop autism or other developmental problems. "It would be really exciting to have a real biomarker and especially one that you can get at birth," says one autism researcher not connected to the study. One potential change would be that kids identified as high risk could get behavioral therapy early. (Read more placenta stories.)