AutismNew research indicates that a simple blood test may be able to reveal whether a child has autism.

The study, which began this week and involves 660 particpants at 20 facilities around the United States, will examine where the test can accurately distinguish between children who have autism and children who have other developmental delays, according to researchers.

While the blood test by itself cannot diagnose an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the researchers hope it will speed up the time it takes to diagnose the condition, which can be a lengthy process.

“If a blood test could indicate ASD risk, it would help families and physicians know when to refer children to an ASD expert, potentially leading to earlier treatment and better outcomes,” Dr. Jeremy Veenstra VanderWeele, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, said in a statement.

The study is being funded by SynapDx, the company that hopes to develop and market the test.

According to the National Institute of Menal Health, Autism spectrum disorders are a range of developmental disorders characterized by social impairment, language difficulties and repetitive behaviors. Currently, ASD is diagnosed by evaluating a person’s behavior and taking into account their medical history.

The new test could provide an objective marker for autism that would be used in conjunction with clinical evaluation, the researchers said. The test looks at gene expression – whether a gene is “turned on” or not – and is aimed at distinguishing between children who have autism and those who don’t.

In a 2012 study of a similar test involving 170 children with autism and 115 children without autism, the test could accurately identify autism in two-thirds of children who had the condition. That test, which looked for differences in the expression of 55 genes, was later licensed to SynapDx.

The earlier study indicates that the blood test for autism is not accurate enough to reliably distinguish between the children who had autism and those who did not, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.