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Gut Microbe Improvement Through Fecal Microbial Transplants Shows Promise In Treating Autism

Update Date: Jan 24, 2017 11:19 PM EST

The key in treating autism among children may not lie in the brain, but in the gut. A team of researchers found that children with autism may benefit from fecal microbial transplants to improve the gut microbiome.

Children diagnosed with autism are more likely to suffer from stomach problems than other children. Now, a team of researchers at the Ohio State University and the University of Arizona has shown that changing gut bacteria may reduce not just stomach problems but the behavioral issues linked to the condition as well.

Improved Autism Symptoms And Stomach Problems

In the study published in the journal Microbiome, the researchers examined 18 children with autism and gastrointestinal problems. They gave the children a 10-week treatment of fecal microbial transplants, which involved transferring live gut bacteria from a health donor to a patient.

The doctors and parents of the children reported positive changes that lasted at least eight weeks after the treatment. The children had about 20 to 25 percent improvement in autism behaviors including improved sleeping patterns and social skills. Moreover, they had 80 percent reduced stomach problems.

"Transplants are working for people with other gastrointestinal problems. And, with autism, gastrointestinal symptoms are often severe, so we thought this could be potentially valuable," Ann Gregory, study co-author, said in a press release by Ohio State University.

How It Works And Study Implications

There has been a growing body of research that draws connections between the bacteria and viruses found in the gut and problems in the brain. There is a possibility that the two are tied together in an important way in autism.

The fecal microbial donor materials contain about 1,000 different species of gut bacteria, which would act like a probiotic treatment to restore normal gut bacteria in patients.

The study showed that not only did the researchers provide good microbes in the gut, but the microbes that were provided changed the gut environment that would help the person recruit beneficial microbes.

The authors, however, caution families in replicating the study on their own.

"Although we see promise in this treatment, it is important that parents and children consult their physicians," Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, co-author from the Arizona State University, said in a press release. She added that replicating the study might result in severe gastrointestinal infection.

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