New gut microbe study may lead to potential autism treatment

Scientists look to gut microbes for a possible new treatment for autism.
By Amy Wallace   |   Jan. 23, 2017 at 12:19 PM
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Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers at Arizona State University have found improved autism symptoms in participants who were given medications to treat gut microbes.

The research team of scientists from Arizona State, Northern Arizona University, Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota, studied 18 people ages 7 to 16 with autism spectrum disorders for 10 weeks.

Study participants were given a treatment of antibiotics, a bowel cleanse, and daily fecal microbial transplants over an eight-week period.

The study showed an average of 80 percent improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms common in people with autism and a 20 to 25 percent improvement in certain autism behaviors including social skills and sleep habits.

"The results were very compelling," James Adams, ASU president's professor of materials science and engineering and study author, said in a press release. "We completed a Phase 1 trial demonstrating safety and efficacy, but recommending such treatment and bringing it to market requires Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials. We look forward to continuing research on this treatment method with a larger, placebo-controlled trial in the future."

The fecal microbial transplant transfers live gut bacteria from a healthy donor and contains roughly 1,000 different species of gut bacteria that act as probiotics.

"We saw a big increase in microbe diversity and a big increase in certain bacteria, especially Prevotella, which we previously found was low in children with autism spectrum disorders," Dae-Wook Kang, researcher at Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

Researchers stressed the need for further research and a placebo-controlled trial.

The study was published in Microbiome.

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