Conor Doherty, Autism Disorder, Unusual Facial Asymmetry?
I have never seen this one before and, on an intuitive basis, I have a hard time accepting the idea that persons with autism display unusual facial asymmetry. But that is the claim of Professor Peter Hammond of the UCL Institute of Child Health who has developed new computer software that compares the faces of undiagnosed children with those with a diagnosed condition that also affects the development of their face, with a 90 per cent success rate. He will describe his work at the BA (British Association) Festival of Science in York on Monday. Professor Hammond's program is designed to assist diagnosis of a variety of genetic disorders including autism.
As described in Innovations Report:
The specially written software is based on dense surface modelling techniques developed at UCL and compares the child’s face to groups of individuals with known conditions and selects which syndromes look most similar. In order to do this, extensive collections of 3D face images of children and adults with the same genetic condition had to be gathered, as well as controls or individuals with no known genetic condition. Each image contains 25,000 or so points on a face surface capturing even the most subtle contours in 3D. The images are then converted to a compact form that requires only a 100 or so numeric values to represent each face in the subsequent analysis.
Once the software has narrowed down conditions with similar facial features, molecular testing can then be used to confirm the diagnosis. Testing for fewer conditions will save money, time and reduce the amount of stress the child and the parents are put under.
So far the technique has proved fruitful, Professor Hammond says: ‘The technique is currently being applied to over 30 conditions with an underlying genetic abnormality. The discriminatory capability of the approach has proven highly accurate in identifying the characteristic facial features of a variety of genetic conditions, including Cornelia de Lange, Fragile X, Noonan, Smith-Magenis and Velocardiofacial syndromes. It has identified unusual facial asymmetry in children with autism spectrum disorder reflecting known brain asymmetry and has helped to identify genes affecting facial development in Williams syndrome.’