World Autism Awareness Day: Iconeus co-founder interviewed about early diagnosis of ASD

To mark World Autism Awareness Day 2024, the business discussion programme ‘La France Bouge’ on the radio station Europe 1 invited four people – including our co-founder Ludovic Lecointre – to talk about work being done to help people with autism, including the potential for early diagnosis using functional ultrasound technology.

To gain a French perspective on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day (2 April 2024), the business discussion programme ‘La France Bouge’ (France is Moving), hosted by Elisabeth Assayag, interviewed four people who are involved in supporting those with ASD and helping them fulfill their potential.

One of the interviewees was our very own Ludovic Lecointre, Co-founder of Iconeus, who provided a medical technology perspective to the programme, by describing how our Iconeus One functional neuroimaging system could soon be used to detect neurodevelopmental disorders, potentially including ASD.

World Autism Awareness Day: Iconeus co-founder interviewed about early diagnosis of ASD

Iconeus – A Paris-based startup with a difference

After giving an overview of how the company was founded in 2017, Ludovic explained that as a startup, we’ve commercialized a technology originally developed by researchers at the French institutes Inserm and CNRS.

But he pointed out that, unlike some other start-ups, Iconeus doesn’t rely on a succession of fundraising initiatives. Instead, we’ve used the turnover generated from the marketplace for our early-edition instruments to drive new product developments. As a result, we’ve continued to grow, and we now have a headcount of 35 people, all based in Paris (which, he said, is also where all our instruments are manufactured).

The potential of Iconeus One for clinical applications

The discussion then naturally turned to the instrument itself, which Elisabeth straightforwardly described as a “kind of computer on wheels”. There’s a bit more to it than that of course (!), but what’s important is what it’s able to do, and that’s what Ludovic then proceeded to describe, in terms of the three main technological capabilities that underpin its clinical potential.

The first is the ability to measure very fine variations in blood flow, which is very useful because it indicates neuronal activity. Ludovic explained that this is because neurons, unlike muscles, don’t have an energy reserve. Therefore, brain activity even within a very small region is always tightly correlated with blood flow – and that’s what Iconeus One measures.

The second aspect was vascular imaging, which by using contrast agents can be done very precisely – down to 5 micrometers, approximately the size of a red blood cell. This precision is very useful, Ludovic explained, because many neurodegenerative diseases probably have a vascular origin.

The third aspect, Ludovic explained, is the ability to uncover information on the ‘connectome’ – associations in patterns of activation between different parts of the brain. He said that we expect these associations to be present when tasks are being performed by the brain – but they’re also present when we’re doing nothing. And, he went on to say, it’s this ‘standard state’ that some researchers believe could serve as a reference point for evaluating any discrepancies in brain activity, such as those resulting from pathologies or disorders.


Opening the door to early diagnosis of ASD

These three capabilities, said Ludovic, open up the possibility of helping those with ASD – a possibility that is currently being explored through the company’s involvement with the ConexUS project (for more about what we’re doing with the project, see this news release). He explained that although the final clinical applications are some way off, if the science turns out favorably, it could be possible to diagnose different conditions – including autism – immediately after birth.

That in turn would allow healthcare staff to provide affected infants with the support and stimulation they need straight away, rather than waiting for a formal diagnosis that may only come years down the line. That, said Elizabeth, would indeed be “revolutionary”!

A range of approaches to helping those with ASD

As well as talking to Ludovic Lecointre, Elizabeth also interviewed three other people from France who are helping improve the prospects of those with ASD:

  • M’hammed Sajidi, President and Founder of the charity Vaincre l’Autisme, which develops educational tools and fosters research aimed at ‘defeating autism’.
  • Sarah Cherruault, CEO and Co-founder of Auticiel, developer of tablet-based apps to help people with cognitive disorders.
  • Clara Leger, who spoke on behalf of Lali Dugelay, Founder of Atypie at work, which helps companies to welcome those with ASD into work.


If you’re interested to learn more, you can hear the whole programme (in French) on the ‘La France Bouge’ website, or you can listen to the excerpt with Ludovic on the Europe 1 YouTube channel, which offers subtitles in English (and other languages).


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