ASU researchers use bacteria to improve autism symptoms

Scientists are learning more about how our health is connected to having the right kind of microbes living in our digestive tract. Researchers are also getting a better understanding of what causes autism. The Catalyst science team reports on an innovative pair of ASU researchers who connected those two spheres of science with the hope of improving the lives of kids with autism.

While the number of kids struggling with autism spectrum disorder seems to be on a steady increase, so do methods of treatment for autism symptoms. Dr. James Adams and Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown are two dedicated researchers at Arizona State University. Together, they have developed a treatment for ASD symptoms that may seem a little taboo: microbiotic transplant, or transfer therapy is a way to introduce microbes from healthy people into people whose gut, for whatever reason, is not so healthy.

According to Dr. Adams, of ASU’s School of Engineering of Matter, Transport, and Energy, children who had more gut symptoms also had worse autism symptoms across the board.

“Looking at this data gave us the idea that adding good microbes could possible help these children,” said Dr. Krajmalnik-Brown, of ASU’s Biodesign Center for Health Through Microbiomes. “So we designed a trial.”

The treatment is bacteria derived from human fecal matter. The trial used antibiotic and a bowel cleanse to clear out gut bacteria – good and bad – and then “replanted” with microbiota from healthy donors.

“Overall, there was about an 80% reduction in gut symptoms,” said Dr. Adams. Slowly, the children’s autism symptoms improved as well, with about a 25% improvement in autism symptoms by the end of the study.

“It was like my brain got rewired,” said an adult study participant, “like someone installed a new processor.”

“Nothing has had an impact the way that this has,” his mother agreed.

The two researchers are now working to back up their results by doing similar tests with adults with autism. Their hope is that this work could one day become a therapy to help people with autism regardless of age.

Sponsor message:

In this segment:

Dr. James Adams
Dr. Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown

Sponsor message:

The Oratorio: A Documentary with Martin Scorcesse

Martin Scorsese reveals the fascinating story of a one-night-only performance in 1826 at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral—Scorsese’s home church in Little Italy—that marked the arrival of Italian opera in the New World in, The Oratrio.

Great Performances: Now Hear This "Beethoven's Ghost"

Go inside the mind of a genius as host Scott Yoo and fellow musicians undertake a recording of Beethoven's most personal music at a historic Berkshires manor to explore the composer’s brilliant career — where they are visited by some unexpected guests.

Prime Afternoons: All your PBS favorites, in the daytime

Prime Afternoons on Arizona PBS

Miss a show in the evening? Enjoy some of our highest-rated primetime evening shows earlier in the day during Prime Afternoons.