Child with autism improves with antibiotic; prompts new investigations into autism

Quinn, an autistic boy, and the line of toys he made before falling asleep. Repeatedly stacking or lining up objects is a behavior commonly associated with autism. Credit: Wikipedia.

John Rodakis, the parent of a child with autism was not looking to launch an international investigation into the microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live on and in us) and autism, but, as he describes in his newly published article in the scientific journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, when his young son's autism unexpectedly and dramatically improved while taking an antibiotic for strep throat, he began a quest to understand why.

Following the surprise improvement, Mr. Rodakis, who in addition to being a parent is also a medical venture capitalist with a background in molecular biology and a Harvard MBA, began to examine the medical literature where he found a lone study from 1999 conducted at Chicago Rush Children's hospital that documented a similar phenomenon in autistic children. After speaking with other parents and clinicians he discovered that improvements on antibiotics such the one his son experienced were frequently observed, but not well studied. "I was determined to understand what was happening in the hope of helping both my son and millions of other children with ."

The Father's quest led him to world-renowned autism researcher Dr. Richard Frye, head of the Autism Research Program at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute and his team and together they began a collaboration that grew to include other researchers from many different medical disciplines from all parts of the world. As the parent/researcher collaboration intensified, two ideas emerged: that the group should design a research trial to try to understand this unusual phenomenon and to hold a scientific conference on autism and the . "Careful parental observations can be crucial. In science we take these observations, put them through the scientific method, and see what we find. This is what can lead to ground breaking scientific discoveries and breakthroughs in the field", said Dr. Frye.

This past June, the group held a first-of-its-kind conference: The First International Symposium on the Microbiome in Health and Disease with a Special Focus on Autism which was co-sponsored by Mr. Rodakis' newly formed non-profit N of One: Autism Research Foundation. As a result of that conference, a special issue on Autism and The Microbiome is being published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. The issue features articles from conference presenters and others including an article by Mr. Rodakis, titled "An n=1 case report of a child with autism improving on antibiotics and a father's quest to understand what it may mean."

New evidence for the microbiome's involvement in has been rapidly accelerating in recent years. Fifteen years ago, another autism parent, Ellen Bolte, had what at the time was a far-fetched hypothesis: that gut bacteria played a role in some cases of autism. Her efforts resulted in the 1999 small, but ground-breaking clinical trial conducted at Chicago Rush Children's hospital that Mr. Rodakis found while doing his research. Today, that hypothesis has grown into a large body of evidence demonstrating a link between the microbiome and autism, also called the "gut-brain" connection. Just this summer a team at Arizona State University led by Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown published findings repeating what others have documented that showed that children with autism exhibited less bacterial diversity in their guts than typically developing children. Dr. Krajmalnik-Brown, was also a speaker at the conference and also has a paper appearing in the special issue.

In the article out this month, Mr. Rodakis outlines the personal story of how his child's autism symptoms improved while taking a common antibiotic and then goes on to summarize recent human and animal-model research into possible biological mechanisms at work. Mr. Rodakis does not suggest that antibiotics are a treatment for autism, but rather may be useful as a research tool. Mr. Rodakis adds, "Current research is demonstrating that gut bacteria play previously undiscovered roles in health and disease throughout medicine. The evidence is very strong that they also play a role in autism. It's my hope that by studying these antibiotic-responding children, we can learn more about the core biology of autism."

Mr. Rodakis argues that that the microbiome's role in autism is a promising area for further research, though under-funded by the current major public and private organizations that fund . Mr. Rodakis' active efforts to shape and encourage research into promising areas is part of a broader trend of patients and affected families playing an increasing role in driving promising medical research. Mr. Rodakis argues that the link between the microbiome and autism is not just plausible, but given recent research, likely.

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Mar 24, 2015
What is so funny about this article is that naturopaths and alternative doctors have been saying for years how important gut health is in treating everything including autism. I find it hilarious that people naysay natural doctors but when the same info comes out years later through mainstream doctors all the sudden it is a big deal.

80% of your immune system is in your gut. A researcher out of John's Hopkins says that autism is an immune system disease.

Heal the gut...heal the autism.

OH, wait!! It has already been done by many parents and then we are told nope we can never heal autism. And yet, our kids are healed after we healed their gut and changed their diet.

Try listening to alternative and natural doctors for a change. You might learn something years before mainstream medicine does.

Recently it came out that cholesterol does not cause heart issues. Duh!! We have known that for years.

Mar 24, 2015
I completely agree with Marlo. I have 2 children with Autism. One 19 years old, and the other 20. I've been hearing about how important the gut, and it's bacterial balance is for over 15 years now. This area of research was always out there, but once again, if you can't patent the treatment, chances are you are not going to get any research money, and thus, the potential treatment remains "non-legitimate" with "anecdotal results". This has been the plight of the parent of a child with Autism. The treatment might be as simple as the right combination of antifungals, antibiotics, and probiotics. Maybe Mr. Rodakis is the right guy, at the right time, to get the backing to do this type of work. Unfortunately for my family, and thousands of others, it is coming 15 years too late. Godspeed Mr. Rodakis.

Mar 24, 2015
I would like to find out what the improvements are in the this boy who has taken the antibiotics. This is counter-intuitive because the antibiotics cause more harm in the gut than they help. This article leaves too much information out to make ay kind of judgement.

Mar 24, 2015
Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD has been studying this for years. She has written a book called "Gut and Psychology Syndrome." I highly recommend it.

Mar 24, 2015
It's so important to remember with all autism research that it isn't "autism" it's "autismS" and recent studies have shown that there are hundreds - possibly thousands - of different genetic variants (it explains the saying 'once you've met one person with autism, you've met person with autism'). I've seen this antibiotic effect first hand in a child with autism and "unexplainable" severe gut issues (these were vastly improved over years with intense dietary intervention, but no apparent communication, cognition, or sensory regulation effects). I've seen some children whose dietary changes helped them and others for whom it had no effect at all. I think there has to be more work on identifying subcategories of autism to find meaningful treatments.

Mar 24, 2015
So, What if the autistic child ha had a low grade, sub acute, infection much of his life. One that made him feel unwell, and worsened his performance... Then when he was given an antibiotic, he felt better, and therefore his autism seemed better. I get the idea that the boy is STILL autistic... That is is "better".
I am not trying to be a smarty pants... Just a thought.

Mar 24, 2015
Well, we know that a fungus growing on grain can cause psychotic behavior - why not imagine the fungal infection altering the gut biome, and that combination altering perception, - just as ergot?

I have felt this could be of high possibility - in certain individuals. I remember personally at one point being so ill as to hallucinate. The infection ( likely viral ) ran through a group of coffee house friends, resulting in one woman's loss of the ability to maintain her life - and moving back home.

Food poisoning will alter the gut biome, - viral and bacterial infections seem often to result in an altered micro biome and health problems. Time was when ( DOCTORS ) totally refused to consider a bacteria could cause an ulcer, - that at a time when science KNEW THAT BACTERIA COULD CAUSE FOOD POISONING - and even death....

Mar 24, 2015
Try oscillating fans to mitigate autism. It mitigates SIDS. Maybe pheromones cause autism? If so, the fans disrupt plumes and diminish reception to subclinical. Cover the armpits of mothers/fathers of autistics with petroleum jelly. Provide healthy adult male or female facial skin surface lipid to the mouths of autistics.

Mar 28, 2015
So it's not the non-existent mercury vaccine preservative this time ??

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