Autism can be detected in womb-Health-Health & Science-The Times of India Close on the heels of a cancer-proof baby being born in UK, screened in the womb to exclude a cancer-causing gene, a new research raises possibility of prenatal screening for autism by potentially identifying the condition in unborn babies. Scientists at Cambridge University discovered that high levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid of pregnant mothers was linked to autistic traits in their children, the Telegraph reported on its website on Monday. The findings raise the possibility of undertaking tests in the womb to detect the condition, which would allow parents the controversial ability to decide whether to terminate fetuses. Experts are now calling for a debate on the consequences of the screening process, called amniocentesis, which is already used to detect Down’s syndrome in unborn babies. “If there was a prenatal test for autism, would this be desirable? What would we lose if children with autistic spectrum disorder were eliminated from the population?” professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the research team, was quoted by the Guardian as saying. “We should start debating this. There is a test for Down’s syndrome and that is legal and parents exercise their right to choose termination, but autism if often linked with talent. It is a different kind of condition.” Experts from the university’s autism research centre discovered the testosterone link after studying 235 children from birth to the age of eight. They found that when high levels of the hormone were found, children showed autistic traits such as a lack of sociability and verbal skills by the time they were eight. Flip side: We might lose geniuses in the process. People with autism include those with extraordinary abilities in mathematics and music. And as researchers report that they might be able to detect autism in the womb, the debate about whether this would be ethical is intensifying. Autistic kids have an extraordinary grasp of facts, but they have no concept of analysis or interpretation. With this incapacity comes social isolation, an inability to form lasting relationship, reports Times Online. The thousands of autistic children are at the centre of an ethical debate with far-reaching consequences. Within a few years it may become possible for expectant mothers to have prenatal tests to determine if their child is likely to be autistic. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, says that autistic males often turn out to be skilled at mathematics and engineering — some reaching near-genius level. He says that Newton and Einstein were almost certainly autistic, finding relationships difficult. Artists, too, have suffered from autism or Asperger’s — including the blind pianist Derek Paravicini and, reportedly, the film director Steven Spielberg. So if we found a test for autism, and gave parents the opportunity of aborting the fetus, we might eliminate not just a difficult child but a potential genius.