Someday, it may be possible for each woman to know ahead of time if she will give birth to a child with a neuro-developmental disorder. That is because SUNY Downstate Medical Center received a grant worth $50,000 to develop a diagnostic test that would pick up the folate receptor autoantibody. The autoantibody has been linked to autism, neural tube defects, and cerebral folate deficiency.
Babies with neural tube defects have either brains or spinal cords that do not properly develop. The result may be lifelong paralysis, or even death shortly after birth. Cerebral folate deficiency can lead to progressive retardation, starting as early as four months. Children with autism can show a wide spectrum of behavior, usually showing difficulty with social interaction and repetitive behavior. Over the years, proper amounts of folate in the diet have reduced the number of babies born with neuro-developmental disorders. Yet the folate receptor autoantibody prevents folate from doing its work by blocking folate nutrients from entering the cells that require them. They may also cause a severe immune system response that works to counteract any folate benefits.
By locating the women who have folate receptor autoantibody, whether they intend to get pregnant or not, doctors hope to be able to intervene early and prescribe folate supplements. One SUNY researcher, Dr. Edward Quadros, has already created a test for the autoantibody, and hopes to develop it into a tool that is clinically useful.
There is little evidence that folate production is anything other than a biological issue, unrelated to environmental factors. Therefore, if your child were born with a neuro-development disorder that could be traced to folate deficiency, you would not have any luck filing a lawsuit against an environmental polluter. If the circumstances were that the test became the norm within the next several years, and your doctor knew about it, but did not test you, you might have a case for medical malpractice. You would argue that your doctor had a duty to you to inform you of this test (especially if you were thinking of having children) and breached this duty by failing to do so. The breach caused you injury, and damage in the form of your baby's neuro-developmental disorder. However, it could be a number of years before this becomes an issue. Until then, your doctor has no means of testing whether you have the folate receptor autoantibody.
Some of the disorders attributed to lack of folate also have environmental causes. If you believe that the environmental polluter, and not folate deficiency, caused your child's birth defect, you might consider filing a toxic tort lawsuit. You would argue that the polluter was negligent for not following the reasonable standards set by the industry, that the polluter's actions led to your injury, and that you suffered damage in the form of your child's birth defect. One of the most important things you would need to do is produce evidence that showed the polluter, and not another cause (like folate deficiency), was responsible for the neuro-development disorder.