Autism Linked to Creases in Placenta?

I heard that autism has been linked to creases in the placenta. What's that all about?
ByKylie McConville
Updated
Mar 2017
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Yep, you heard right, but scientists aren’t exactly sure what that means yet.

The study you probably read about was an analysis of placentas from 217 different births. Researchers, lead by Cheryl K. Walker, MD, an OB at the Mind Institute at the University of California, Davis, found that, in families at high risk for having an autistic child, the placentas were significantly more likely to have  abnornormal folds and creases — called trophoblast inclusions.

117 of the placentas came from babies at risk for autism, and the other 100 came from babies with a lower risk for autism. After analysis, more than two-thirds of the low-risk placentas had no inclusions (with none more than two), and 77 of the high-risk placentas had inclusions. 

The exciting thing about this research is that some experts say the folds in the placenta could become an early indicator for babies at high risk for the developmental disorder. Right now, only about 10 to 15 percent of placentas are analyzed, usually only if there have been pregnancy or birth complications, but experts say this could open the door to a new frontier, not just for autism research, but also for the importance of the placenta.

When we spoke with Lori Taylor, MD, pediatrician and owner of Coast Pediatrics Del Mar in California about the impact this study, she said, “It would be fantastic to have a way to identify children at greater risk for the development of autism, so that we can perform targeted screening. Anything that helps us achieve our goal of early intervention for children most at risk is a welcome tool.”

But research on this study is far from over. There will be a part two of the study and, probably, more follow-up research. “Pediatricians will take this study as further evidence for a strong genetic predisposition to the development of autism,” says Taylor. “For a long time, vaccines and other medical interventions have been erroneously blamed for the rise in childhood autism rates. Although preliminary, this study suggests strong prenatal, and likely genetic, factors in the development of autism in children.”

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Also important is what the research could mean for doctors. “Pediatricians will await the results of part two of the study,” says Taylor, “which will tell us whether these abnormal folds and creases in the placenta truly were associated with a higher risk of developing autism.”

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