A new treatment from Arizona maintains that it has seen great success in treating the effects of autism, at least on a gut level.
Based on research indicating that people with autism are severely lacking in certain strains of gut bacteria, a phenomenon leading to the presence of gastrointestinal issues in many patients, a university of Arizona study set out to see whether a microbiota transfer therapy treatment might have an effect on autism.
MTT involves collecting, processing, and freezing the fecal material of healthy people, and then administering it — orally or rectally — to the person receiving the treatment. Thus, the healthy bacteria should re-establish a balance in the gut microbiome of the person experiencing gastrointestinal problems.
Researchers Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown and James Adams first ran a clinical trial to test this method a few years ago, and their results — published in 2017 in the journal Microbiome — suggested that MTT appears to be a promising approach to alter the gut microbiome and improve [gastrointestinal] and behavioral symptoms of ASD.
As for why children with autism have gastrointestinal problems, and why MTT seems to be effective in treating these, Krajmalnik-Brown says, Kids with autism are lacking important beneficial bacteria, and have fewer options in the bacterial menu of important functions that bacteria provide to the gut than typically developing kids.
However, the initial clinical trial only examined the effects of MTT 8 weeks after the treatment.
Now, the researchers have conducted a follow-up study to see whether the new therapy would be as effective 2 years after its administration.
The study — the findings of which now appear in the journal Nature — involved the same 18 autistic children who participated in the former clinical trial.
The researchers received the parents#39 and children#39 written consent before enrolling the latter as
participants in the new trial.
The researchers explain that at the start of the study, autistic children had poorer bacterial diversity in the gut, compared with neurotypical children with healthy and balanced microbiota. More specifically, two beneficial bacterial strands — Bifidobacteria and Prevotella — were lacking in the microbiota of children on the spectrum.
Following the initial MTT intervention, the autistic children experienced more gut bacterial diversity, including increased levels of Bifidobacteria and Prevotella. In the new clinical trial, which measured bacterial diversity in the gut after 2 years from the intervention, the children had even more bacterial diversity and a steady presence of healthful bacteria.
As for the health effects, the children saw a 58 percent decline in symptoms tied to gastrointestinal problems. Also, the authors write that the children involved in this study showed slow but steady improvement in core ASD symptoms, with a 45 percent improvement in measurements related to language, social interaction, and behavior. According to Dr. Thomas Borody, the gastroenterologist who pioneered MTT, This is a world-
first discovered that when we treated the gut bacteria in these children during our clinical trial 2
years ago to reset their microbiome with [fecal microbiota transplant], positive results are still
continuing to be improving 2 years from the original treatments. I, adds Dr. Borody, would call it the highest improvement in a cohort that anyone has achieved for autism symptoms.
Despite its success, the research does have limitations and ethical questions. As the study authors themselves admit the results are based on a very small clinical trial with only 18 participants. So, further research is needed to replicate the findings.
Drs. Krajmalnik-Brown, 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,& notes Adams.
Also, although Arizona State University sponsored the clinical trial, some of the authors declare
that they received research grants from the Finch Therapeutics Group, a private company that
invests in clinical trials focused on developing microbial therapies.
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