ASU experts follow gut reaction in autism treatment study

August 20, 2014 by Joe Caspermeyer
ASU experts follow gut reaction in autism treatment study
Clostidium difficile in the gut. The overgrowth of this dangerous bacteria can cause serious, life-threatening infections. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

About half of all children and adults with autism suffer from chronic gastrointestinal problems, causing frequent pain, discomfort and irritability. Research out of Arizona State University suggests these gastrointestinal (GI) complications may be due, in part, to abnormal gut bacteria.

A new study approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and led by Arizona State University will examine a novel treatment – called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) – for GI problems in with . The treatment involves transferring about 1,000 different species of live from a healthy donor that then act like a broad-spectrum probiotic treatment to restore normal gut bacteria.

FMT has been used to treat serious Clostrium difficle infections that kill up to 15,000 people each year in the United States. Determining the safety and tolerability of using FMT to treat GI problems in children with autism is driving the study.

The FDA has approved a pilot treatment study of 20 children with autism, ages 7 to 17 years, and moderate to severe .

Missing bacteria

Led by professor Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, an expert on evaluating the composition of gut bacterial communities, and professor James Adams, director of the ASU Autism/Asperger's Research Program, the ASU research team published a scientific paper last year demonstrating that children with autism were missing several hundred species of gut bacteria compared to typical children.

"Our initial work found major differences in the gut bacteria of children with autism compared to typical children, and our subsequent work has confirmed those findings," said Krajmalnik-Brown. "Children with autism seem to be missing hundreds of beneficial gut bacteria."

"Many children and adults with autism have chronic gut problems, sometimes lasting for many years and seriously affecting their quality of life," said Adams. "We think this treatment may be helpful."

The team's hypothesis is that FMT will "reseed" the gut with that will help diminish GI problems and possibly reduce autistic symptoms.

Several studies show that FMT may also be helpful in treating other GI problems, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation.

Beneficial versus harmful

The typically contains more than 1,000 different species of bacteria – most of them beneficial. These bacteria help with digesting food, making certain vitamins, improving GI function and protecting against .

However, there are a few dangerous bacteria, such as Clostidium difficile (C. difficile), which can cause serious, life-threatening infections. C. difficile kills about 15,000 people per year in the U.S., but a single dose of FMT has been shown to cure C. difficile with 92 percent effectiveness, usually within a few days.

Collaborating with Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona, the ASU team will lead the treatment portion of the study, with the help of Sharon McDonough-Means, a developmental pediatrician involved in the care of children with autism and previous research studies. Greg Caporaso at NAU, an expert in computational and statistical methods for studying communities of microorganisms, will analyze the effect of FMT on gut bacterial communities, and Matthew Sullivan at UA will investigate the viruses that infect gut bacteria, and thereby affect bacterial populations in the gut.

The new initiative is a follow-up to a previous study that demonstrated that treatment with a powerful oral antibiotic, vancomycin, led to a temporary improvement in both gut symptoms and symptoms of autism, presumably because it killed off harmful bacteria in the gut. However, when the was stopped, the benefits were lost, presumably because there was insufficient "reseeding" of the gut with beneficial bacteria.

Explore further: Can chemicals produced by gut microbiota affect children with autism?

More information: More information on the study can be found at autism.asu.edu.

Related Stories

Can chemicals produced by gut microbiota affect children with autism?

May 19, 2014
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have significantly different concentrations of certain bacterial-produced chemicals, called metabolites, in their feces compared to children without ASD. This research, presented ...

New frontiers of fecal microbiota transplantation

August 14, 2014
Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is one of the most innovative new treatments of the 21st century. Experts believe that this procedure, which transplants microbes from one human gut to another through fecal matter, ...

Gut microbiota affects intestinal integrity

August 13, 2014
Bacteria in the gut help the body to digest food, and stimulate the immune system. A PhD project at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, examines whether modulations of the gut bacterial composition ...

Scientists develop first vaccine to help control autism symptoms

April 24, 2013
A first-ever vaccine created by University of Guelph researchers for gut bacteria common in autistic children may also help control some autism symptoms. The groundbreaking study by Brittany Pequegnat and Guelph chemistry ...

Breastfeeding promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut

May 7, 2014
A number of studies have shown that breastfed babies grow slightly slower and are slightly slimmer than children who are fed with infant formula. Children who are breastfed also have a slightly lower incidence of obesity, ...

Good bacteria armed with antibiotic resistance protect gut microbiome

June 12, 2014
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have discovered that populating the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of mice with Bacteroides species producing a specific enzyme helps protect the good commensal ...

Recommended for you

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Females with autism show greater difficulty with day-to-day tasks than male counterparts

July 14, 2017
Women and girls with autism may face greater challenges with real world planning, organization and other daily living skills, according to a study published in the journal Autism Research.

Researchers investigate possible link between carnitine deficiency and autism

July 13, 2017
Researchers are always looking for new clues to the causes of autism, with special emphasis on prevention or treatment. At Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Arthur Beaudet has been following clinical and genetic clues in patients ...

How children look at mom's face is influenced by genetic factors and altered in autism

July 12, 2017
New research has uncovered compelling evidence that genetics plays a major role in how children look at the world and whether they have a preference for gazing at people's eyes and faces or at objects.

Oxytocin improves social abilities in some kids with autism, study finds

July 10, 2017
Children with autism showed improved social behavior when treated with oxytocin, a hormone linked to social abilities, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Children with low ...

Possible early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

June 29, 2017
Measuring a set of proteins in the blood may enable earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study from the Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.