By Teresa Conrick
Katie Wright, whose son is the reason her parents started Autism Speaks, wrote about how NIH has a horrible track record on Autism research. They give out grants for the same, old, archaic topics each passing year. Gene research has always been a favorite for them, even though as Katie reported, "less than 10% of ASD people have documented genetic diseases." What the heck is wrong with doing REAL, biomedical research that will aid MANY more affected children and young adults?
I completely agree with Katie and thank her, and also want to thank a long-time commenter here on AoA for thinking about what I keep writing about here on AoA. Twyla sent me this very pertinent article on, of course, THE MICROBIOME, a favorite topic for me. Thanks, Twyla, as it is important for us all:
It's an interesting article showing how important the Microbiome is in Autism:
A study published in Cell in 2013 studied lab mice with ASD-like symptoms, such as avoiding social interaction and compulsive and repetitive behavior. Remarkably, after subjecting the mice to the human Bacteroides fragilis, the researchers noted the mice became less anxious and more social. The findings, wrote the authors, “support a gut-microbiome-brain connection in ASD and identify a potential probiotic therapy for GI and behavioral symptoms of autism"...There are no immediately clear distinctions by type or number between the microbiomes of children with autism and those without. The researchers are, however, detecting some subtle differences. Kids within families are the most similar to each other. But kids with ASD in different families have microbiomes that are more alike than the microbiomes of non-autistic children in different families.
And it also included some great comments from an NIH researcher:
“The microbiome is the hot thing to study now,” says Kevin Becker, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. “But I think that’s exciting; the research is very robust.”....In 2007, Becker was the first researcher to suggest that the microbiome might be connected to symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. In the decade since, researchers have accumulated more evidence that the gastrointestinal tracts of children with ASD are often different. Depending on the survey, 60 to 90 percent have irritable bowel syndrome or have complained of diarrhea, stomachaches or gluten intolerance, which inflames the gut. For example, a study of 150 children published in 2006 found that 70 percent of kids with ASD suffered from gastrointestinal woes, compared to 42 percent of developmentally disabled children and 28 percent of children with no developmental disorder...
..But for scientists like Kevin Becker at the NIH, who is not involved in the project, the turn toward the microbiome in researching ASD is a positive development. “Genetics has been the focus for a long time and it often dominates the discussion,” he says. “Most autistic cases have no known genetic cause. Looking into these other paths is a welcome change.”
A "welcome change" is a perfect summation. Genetics as "dominating the discussion" could not be more true. My thanks to Kevin Becker for wanting to help families, something we do not see enough from NIH. The Microbiome is becoming more of an integral part of regression in Autism. It's the EFFECT, the regression that we see but the controversy continues as to WHAT is causing regression.
In that theme, it's important to look at these terms and how they interplay: ANTIBIOTICS, VACCINATIONS, GUT, MICROBIOME, IMMUNE SYSTEM, and BRAIN:
One critical note is that the gut microbiota can regulate not only the local intestinal immune system but also can have a profound influence on systemic immune responses......The gut microbiota that resides in the gastrointestinal tract provides essential health benefits to its host, particularly by regulating immune homeostasis. Moreover, it has recently become obvious that alterations of these gut microbial communities can cause immune dysregulation, leading to autoimmune disorders...........Antibiotic treatments, vaccinations and hygiene practices all can alter gut microbiota composition.........Given the intimate interplay between gut microbiota and the host immune system, it is not surprising that some members of the gut microbiota have been linked to autoimmune diseases.
That would be my daughter, AUTISM and AUTOIMMUNITY.
Here is how this can relate to treating and preventing cases of Autism:
Anther big question is whether we can treat brain disorders, such as autism, by aiming therapies at the gut. One of the barriers to treating psychiatric and neurological disorders is that we often don't understand the underlying disease mechanisms; in other words not only what to target but where those targets are in the body. If the therapeutic targets are in the brain then it becomes particularly challenging because of the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels that protects the brain from harmful substances. But if a neurological condition actually originates in the gut, which we believe is the case for some individuals with autism, then delivering therapeutics is much easier. In my lab, we've been able to alter some of the symptoms associated with autism, such as repetitive behaviors, in mice by feeding them specific bacterial species. These bacteria modulate molecules in the gut and in the blood that affect the nervous system....
...There are at least three ways gut microbes are communicating with the brain: the first is directly through the vagal nerve, which connects the network of nerves in the gut to the brain; the second is through circulating immune cells that are primed, or educated, in the gut and then travel to the brain; and the third may be metabolites, molecules that are produced by microbes in the gut that enter the blood and circulate to regions of the brain where they affect behavior. We've shown, for example, that a metabolite produced by gut bacteria is sufficient to cause behavioral abnormalities associated with autism and with anxiety when it is injected into otherwise healthy mice. This suggests that microbial molecules may connect the gut to the brain via the circulatory system.
Note to NIH - THIS is where the money needs to go.
Teresa Conrick is Managing Editor for Age of Autism.