Children with autism may benefit from faecal transplants to rebalance the gut, a study has found.
Researchers at Arizona State University used faecal transplants from healthy donors to assess the impact on 18 children with autism. The children’s ages ranged between seven and 16.
The scientists recorded an improvement of 80 per cent in gastrointestinal symptoms.
There were improvements in constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and abdominal pain.
In addition, the researchers recorded that the children’s autism symptoms improved by between 20 and 25 per cent. These symptoms involved areas such as social skills and sleep habits.
The lead researcher was Ann Gregory, a microbiology graduate student at Ohio State University, who completed the study while at Arizona. She said: “Following treatment, we found a positive change in gastrointestinal symptoms and neurological symptoms overall.”
However, the study, published in Microbiome, was limited by its small size. It was also not a double-blind trial, as the children and parents were aware they were receiving the treatment. This weakness can open the door for false perceived benefits.
In addition, as a phase one study it was not placebo-controlled. In other words, there was no control group of children receiving an inactive treatment to compare the experimental group against.
More faecal transplants planned
Another of the study’s lead authors was Professor James Adams, an autism specialist at Arizona. He said: “We look forward to continuing research on this treatment method with a larger, placebo-controlled trial in the future.”
Faecal transplantation is carried out by processing and screening donor faeces before introducing them into another person’s gastrointestinal tract.
Researchers started with the children receiving a two-week course of antibiotics to cleanse their existing gut flora.
Then, doctors gave them an initial high-dose faecal transplant in liquid form. Next, over seven to eight weeks the children drank smoothies blended with a lower-dose powder.
The researchers suggest that previous studies have implicated abnormal gut bacteria in the intestines in autism.