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Researchers Develop Vaccine that May Be Able to Control Autism Symptoms

Update Date: Apr 26, 2013 12:43 PM EDT
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Researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada have developed a vaccine that can combat a common gut disorder in children with autism spectrum disorder. They believe that the vaccine may also be able to improve symptoms of children with the condition.

Incidences of autism spectrum disorder have increased over the past 20 years, though researchers are not sure whether that is because the condition is more prevalent or whether doctors have become better at noticing the signs. Nonetheless, an estimated 1 in 50 schoolchildren are believed to have autism spectrum disorder.

Recent evidence has linked some of the symptoms of the condition to gut bacteria. Indeed, 90 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder suffer from severe gastrointestinal problems, and 75 percent of the children who suffer from these issues have diarrhea. Some researchers believe that gut bacteria is linked to the severity of the symptoms of the disorder, particularly in the cases of children with regressive autism.

That is why researchers at the University of Guelph have created a carbohydrate-based vaccine that takes aim at the bacteria. They target specifically Clostridium bolteae, a bacterium that appears to play a role in gastrointestinal disorders. The bacteria appears more often in the guts of children on the autism spectrum than in neurotypical children.

"This is the first vaccine designed to control constipation and diarrhea potentially caused by C. bolteae and perhaps control autism-related symptoms associated with this microbe," chemistry professor Mario Monteiro said in a statement issued by the university.

The vaccine was created by raising antibodies for the bacteria grown in rabbits. It works by targeting specific complex polysaccharides, otherwise known as carbohydrates, on the surface of the bacteria.

Though the vaccine is an important first step, it is a long way away from use in humans. It could take 10 years for the vaccine to work its way through preclinical and human trials.

Age of Autism notes that the focus on the link between gut bacteria and autism spectrum disorder is a clear pivot from statements from the Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who said as recently as four years ago that there was no link between autism and bowel diseases.

The study was published in the journal Vaccine.

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