Researchers at Ohio State University have found that fecal transplants reduced some of the symptoms associated with gastrointestinal distress, as well as behavioral traits associated with autism. Though the study was small, involving only 18 children with autism, the beneficial effects remained for a minimum of 8 weeks post-treatment.
Children with autism often suffer from gastrointestinal problems, which can range from stomach pain to diarrhea. Fecal transplants involve collecting microbe-rich fecal samples from healthy individuals and introducing them to patients with gastrointestinal imbalances. These fecal transplants have been investigated as a potential treatment for numerous conditions, including antibiotic-resistant infections and ulcerative colitis.
“Transplants are working for people with other gastrointestinal problems,” said Ann Gregory, a microbiology graduate student at The Ohio State University, and one of the authors on the study. “And, with autism, gastrointestinal symptoms are often severe, so we thought this could be potentially valuable.”
Previous research has shown that autistic children often have a less-diverse microbiome, which has been attributed to heavy antibiotic use during infanthood. Differences in the microbial makeup of the gut in patients with autism were confirmed in the current study, using samples collected from non-autistic children as a comparison.
Using a scale to rank gastrointestinal symptoms, the researchers found patients’ symptoms were reduced by an average of 82 percent after receiving the fecal transplant. What’s more, parents reported improvements in their children’s behavioural symptoms during the study.
“Following treatment, we found a positive change in GI symptoms and neurological symptoms overall,” said Gregory. According to the researchers, the microbiome of patients with autism was near-identical to their healthy counterparts at the end of the study.
As this was a small, non-blinded observational study, there are limits to how this result can be interpreted. However, a larger clinical trial is in the works to assess whether fecal transplants could be a potential treatment for autism.