In the first study of its kind, university researchers in Adelaide found recordings from the retina could identify distinct signals for Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, providing a potential biomarker for each condition.
Using the electroretinogram (ERG), a diagnostic test that measures the electrical activity of the retina in response to a light stimulus, the researchers found that children with ADHD showed higher overall ERG energy, whereas children with ASD showed less ERG energy.
Flinders University research optometrist, Dr Paul Constable said the preliminary findings indicate promising results for improved diagnoses and treatments in the future.
“ASD and ADHD are the most common neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed in childhood. But as they often share similar traits, making diagnoses for both conditions can be lengthy and complicated,” he said. “Our research aims to improve this. By exploring how signals in the retina react to light stimuli, we hope to develop more accurate and earlier diagnoses for different neurodevelopmental conditions.”
University of South Australia co-researcher in human and artificial cognition, Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos said the research has the potential to extend across other neurological conditions.
“Ultimately, we are looking at how the eyes can help us understand the brain,” he said. “While further research is needed to establish abnormalities in retinal signals that are specific to these and other neurodevelopmental disorders, what we’ve observed so far shows that we are on the precipice of something amazing.”
The research was conducted in partnership with McGill University, University College London and the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.