Brain Health

Autism Detection at Birth

By Harvard Medical School - Biomedical Informatics

Location

United States

Team Leader

Oren Miron

Our solution:

We developed a brain test for autism, which is based on a test that screens hearing impairment on 4,000,000 newborns a year. Modifying those hearing tests to also test autism would allow earlier treatment that decreases autism severity and increases the ability to join the workforce.

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Our pitch:

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The problem:

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social-communication in ~75,000,000 people worldwide, and prevent most of them from joining the workforce. The inability to work leads in the U.S. to a loss of $175B/year, and it leads in developing countries to neglect & murder of children with autism. Treatment is usually ineffective by the time autism is diagnosed (average age of 4 years). In the few cases were autism is diagnosed at 2 years of age, treatment drastically reduces autism severity, and allows most individuals to join the workforce. Testing autism on every newborn requires an inexpensive test.

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Why our solution will solve the problem:

Our peer-reviewed article found that prolonged Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) could predict autism at birth (Miron et al 2016). ABR hearing tests created extensive data, which we examined retrospectively to verify our test and to improve its accuracy. We now aim to modify the 4,000,000 hearing tests done each year to also test autism. ABR hearing tests are rapidly expending in developed & developing countries (ex. Philippines), leading to a potential 100,000,000 tests/year. Based on our findings, we also develop a hearing aid to dampen workplace noises that hurt workers with autism.

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Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot

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Target Outcomes

Our target outcomes:

Our test will allow earlier detection, which allows earlier treatment that enables most people with autism to join the workforce and save billions of dollars. Deployment will start on the 4,000,000 existing ABR tests (2,000,000 of which are done in the U.S.). This will expedite the process of replacing the cheaper and less accurate OAE hearing test done 8,000,000 newborns/year and entering countries that considering starting hearing testing (ex. Philippines). Lastly, we will implement our autism-specific hearing aid to help children with autism go to regular schools & help older people with autism join the workforce.

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How we will measure our progress:

  • Outcome: 2,000,000 ABR hearing tests that also test autism in U.S. hospitals
    Measurement Plan: Track ABR tests through U.S. Hospitals
  • Outcome: 1,750,000 ABR hearing tests that also test autism in Philippines​ hospitals
    Measurement Plan: Track ABR tests through Philippines Hospitals
  • Outcome: 10,000,000 people with autism improving their workforce ability due to ABR test & autism hearing aid within 10 years
    Measurement Plan: Track government report on number of ABR detections of autism & number of autism hearing aids used
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The populations we will benefit initially:

  • Child
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Early childhood education
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The regions we will benefit initially:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • East Asia and Pacific
  • US and Canada
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The countries we will benefit initially:

  • Australia
  • Indonesia
  • Ivory Coast
  • Philippines
  • United States
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Technology

The technologies we employ:

  • Digital systems (machine learning, control systems, big data)
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Why our solution is unique:

ABR autism testing shifts from others in the field that focus on MRI tests, because MRI is too expensive to screen 4,000,000 newborns/year, while ABR already screens 4,000,000 newborns/year. MRI requires a room-sized device costing >$1,000,000 and takes an hour to perform by skilled technicians. In contrast, ABR can be built for <$100, works everywhere, and takes 5 minutes to perform by untrained people. We also provide an autism specific hearing-aid that dampens workplace sounds and can introduce certain sounds/music to help the autistic sensitivity. 

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Why our solution is human-centered:

ABR tests hearing on 4,000,000 newborns a year, including in developing countries. More developing countries have begun pilots with ABR (ex. Philippines), and it could be implemented there even quicker once we show them that it allows autism detection. This message would be even stronger if it is amplified by the SOLVE U.N. platform. ABR hearing testing saved billions of dollars for the U.S. government, which is why it is provided for every newborn, including in underserved communities. Modifying ABR to also test autism would especially help newborns in underserved communities & countries that lack diagnosis resources.

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How people will access our solution:

ABR autism testing uses the 4,000,000 hearing tests performed each year, so it is already affordable and accessible to every newborn in the U.S. and other western countries. In developing countries, ABR testing is mainly in large and affluent cities, but it is gradually spreading to rural areas. Adding autism detection to the ABR hearing testing would incentivize governments to hasten ABR implementation in rural villages. ABR test is mainly performed in hospital, but it is also used in developed villages, which suggests it could be adapted to developing villages.

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Technology-Readiness Level:

6-8 (Demonstration)
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Our website

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Business Plan

Our organization:

Academia

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Where we are located:

United States
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How we will sustain our team financially:

We research in Harvard Medical School and we use extensive existing data, which removes the need for funding for research personal, participant recruitment and testing. Oren Miron donated $10,000-CAD ($7721-USD) that he won for this discovery in “The-Next-Einstein” competition. Our goal is to make the test affordable to underserved communities and countries, so scaling with government and philanthropy would be ideal. If a commercial aspect would prove needed, we would ensure that it does not make testing unaffordable for low-income families but rather that it creates funds to subsidize tests for those families.

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The factors limiting our success:

Autism is rarely detected under age 2 years, which lead to treatment procedures being optimized for age 2 years and above. Studies on treatment below 2 year show promising results but they used smaller samples, and so ABR autism detection would need to refer participants for larger studies under age 2 years to optimize treatment. Autism treatment & awareness is improving in developing countries but it is mostly confined to the cities. It would take a gradual process for awareness  to reaches most of the rural population, but ABR autism tests can hasten that process.

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How long we have been working on our solution:

5+ years
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How long it will take to develop a pilot:

3-6 months
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How long it will take to scale beyond our pilot:

6-12 months
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Our expected annual budget:

$7721

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How much of our budget we've secured to date:

$7721

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Our promotional video:

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Partnership Needs

We're looking for partners in these fields:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Behavioral / Mental Health
  • Digital Health
  • Diagnostics & Testing
  • Maternal & Child Health
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Why we're applying to Solve:

We are applying to Solve in order to introduce our ABR autism test to the solve community, which could provide us with exceptional mentorship and support. We would especially cherish help in introducing our test to developing countries, for example by giving a speech at the U.N. We could also greatly benefit from mentorship in regards to introducing new medical technologies in the U.S. We are always open to collaborations on the ABR autism test with researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers.

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Our current partners:

Our core group is at Harvard Medical School, Dept. of Biomedical Informatics. We are collaborating with researchers in Harvard affiliated hospitals and with hospitals and universities across the U.S. We are also developing partnerships in Ivory Coast, Australia, Israeli and Belgium to help us grow beyond the U.S.

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Solution Team

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