April is recognized as National Autism Awareness Month and a recent ASU-based study has found the long term effects of Microbiota Transfer Therapy, or MTT, on autism symptoms.
As a type of fecal transplant, MTT is a procedure that aims to assist in gastrointestinal, or GI, issues.
The study, which was published in Scientific Reports on April 9, showed that most of the improvements in gut symptoms remained two years after an MTT treatment.
James Adams, an ASU professor involved in the study, said that he was pleasantly surprised by the feedback the researchers gained from parents.
“Until we concluded our research, we had hoped to get these results, but this was even more than we had hoped for,” Adams said.
He said that based on his studies, MTT is a "very promising" long-lasting treatment for some autism symptoms.
"We knew that there was potential with MTT, but to see such good benefits, and then see those benefits last so long is really exciting," he said.
According to Live Science, children with autism may be more likely to face GI problems than children without.
Adams said that although there are many factors that may contribute to this, diet is a significant factor.
“One of the key reasons may come down to something as simple as what we eat, more specifically, low fiber diets,” he said. “Eating foods with lots of fiber is very important to gut health, and that’s something that anyone, not just those with autism, can keep in mind.”
The study found that both GI and autism symptoms were reduced after the MTT procedure, and those changes remained two years after treatment. Along with improvements to gut health, "a professional evaluator found a 45% reduction in core ASD symptoms (language, social interaction and behavior) at two years post-treatment compared to before treatment began," according to a news release on the ASU Biodesign Institute's website.
This points to a connection between the gut and the brain, something that has been highlighted by other research.
The study was a follow-up to previous research published in 2017 on MTT effects on autism symptoms.
Kristina Lopez, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, said an improved understanding of gut health and the brain could lead to important developments.
“After seeing lots of children who have autism across their lifespan, you see a lot of kids who do have GI issues,” Lopez said. “It’s definitely something parents bring up, and I think it’s great that we have research to support the connection there.”
Lopez said that although there have been many advancements in autism research, black and Latino children are often identified less frequently on the spectrum, possibly because of social services and less access to health care.
She also said that having a National Autism Month has brought an increased amount of research and awareness.
Rhonda Baldwin, manager of social work at Phoenix Children's Hospital and adjunct faculty at ASU, said that by having a month dedicated to autism awareness, autism is presented in a more realistic and humanizing way.
She also said that research on autism is extremely important, and having a practical application to study findings could help a lot of people.
“What’s really important about any type of awareness month, really, is that it makes you see people as people,” Baldwin said. “People with autism are just that: people – and they have the same goals and wishes as anyone else.”