Recently, researchers have focused their attention on the frequent existence of gastrointestinal problems in people with autism. It can be challenging to recognize and characterize gastrointestinal problems in individuals with autism because of communication difficulties. Gastrointestinal distress may impact behavioral symptoms of autism. Diagnosis of GI issues and understanding their cause may help in the development of treatments.
Dr. James Versalovic, the Milton J. Finegold Professor of Pathology at Baylor and pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and director of the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center remarked, “Previous research has shown that gastrointestinal problems are more common among individuals with autism, and may worsen behavioral symptoms.”
According to Paul Wang, Autism Speaks senior vice president and head of medical research, “Autism-related communication challenges can make it difficult for therapists and healthcare providers to recognize GI problems in individuals with autism. Too often, their GI disorders go untreated, and medication is used to control behavior instead of treating the underlying GI problem.”
Versalovic and colleagues at BCM and Texas Children’s Hospital were awarded a $1.4 million, three-year grant from Autism Speaks to study gastrointestinal problems in people with autism. The study will be co-led by Dr. Ruth Ann Luna, an assistant professor of pathology at BCM and director of medical metagenomics at the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center.
Versalovic noted that the scientists will look for gastrointestinal bacteria to see what role it plays, also noting “We will look for signs of metabolic disturbances in the children participating in this study.”
Luna added, “The study will be the first of its kind to correlate data related to gut bacteria, metabolic disturbances, GI symptoms, and behavior. By combining all of these factors, we hope to develop better ways to diagnose and treat GI issues in autism.”
The study will include 375 children between the ages of 4 through 12. Three different research sites will participate, including Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.