Children with autism are much more likely to have stomach problems than their peers. Now scientists have shown that changing gut bacteria can alleviate not just stomach problems for children with autism but the behavioral issues associated with the condition, as well.
Researchers gave a group of 18 children with autism and gastrointestinal problems a 10-week treatment of fecal microbial transplants, which involve transferring live gut bacteria from a healthy donor to a patient. The children experienced a 20 to 25 percent improvement in autism behaviors, researchers said, including improved social skills and sleeping patterns. Study participants also had an 80 percent reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms.
Scientists from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, the Ohio State University, and the University of Minnesota published the results of the study in the journal Microbiome.
“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 a microbiology graduate student at the Ohio State University and one of the study's lead authors said in press release.
“Following treatment, we found a positive change in GI symptoms and neurological symptoms overall,” Gregory said.
A growing body of research has connected bacteria in the gut to brain development and behavior. Previous research has shown that children with autism usually have fewer types of gut bacteria and less bacteria overall, the study said. The treatments given to the children in the study changed the balance of bacteria in their stomachs, making the participants' bacterial diversity similar to healthy peers.
"The results were very compelling," said James Adams, Director of Arizona State University's Autism/Asperger's Research Program and study author, in a press release. But Adams noted that more research is needed.
"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," Adams said. "We look forward to continuing research on this treatment method with a larger, placebo-controlled trial in the future."