Scientists at Arizona State University saw a 47 percent decrease in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms after initiating a change in the gut microbiome of study participants. Through a novel procedure called Microbiota Transfer Therapy (MTT), researchers were able to implant a more diverse set of bacteria to improve gut health and promote long-term improvements.
Using markers of language, social interaction and behavior, professional evaluations resulted in 83 percent of the participants being rates as having “severe” autism at the beginning of the study. At the two-year follow-up mark only 17 percent were “severe” while 39 percent were categorized as having “mild/moderate” symptoms and 44 percent were below the cutoff for mild ASD.
"We are finding a very strong connection between the microbes that live in our intestines and signals that travel to the brain," said Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, a professor at ASU. "Two years later, the children are doing even better, which is amazing."
Recent studies have linked bacteria in the gut to heart, lung and brain health and this study seems to further confirm the importance of a healthy gut microbiome. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of people with autism have chronic gastrointestinal (GI) problems such as constipation or diarrhea that can last for years. That chronic pain and discomfort can cause irritability and negatively affect behavior as well as attention and learning.
All of the participants in this study exhibited chronic GI symptoms from infancy with almost no time when they did not have chronic constipation or diarrhea. The treatment led to dramatic GI improvements in some that also resulted in behavioral changes.
"Many kids with autism have gastrointestinal problems, and some studies, including ours, have found that those children also have worse autism-related symptoms," said Krajmalnik-Brown. "In many cases, when you are able to treat those gastrointestinal problems, their behavior improves."
The initial study period was eight weeks but a follow up was scheduled after feedback from the families of the participants.
"It is very unusual to see steady gradual improvement after the conclusion of any treatment," said James Adams, PhD. "We only conducted the long-term follow-up study after several families told us that their child was continuing to improve significantly."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about one in every 59 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. That is up from one in every 150 in 2000. That dramatic rise coupled with the fact no medical treatments have been approved for core ASD symptoms has led researchers at ASU and elsewhere to seek answers.
"Drs. Krajmalnik-Brown, (Dae-Wook) Kang and I are excited about the results, but we want to caution the public that we need larger clinical trials for this to become an FDA-approved treatment," Adams said. He also stated professional expertise is needed for safe and effective treatment.