TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A breakthrough Arizona State University study that transfers good bacteria from one gut to another is finding major success with people who have autism.
It's not just solving gastrointestinal problems-- it's actually cutting symptoms of autism itself in half.
Andrew Walters is evidence of that.
As he stood on an ASU soccer field listing off movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the order in which he says you should watch them, Andrew was doing something he never would have done just a few years ago-- holding still and doing an interview with a complete stranger.
The 19-year-old has autism, but life has been changing for him ever since he had a microbiata transfer almost three years ago, when he was 17 years old.
“I think it was really good,” he said. “I don’t feel any pain in my stomach.”
Patients with autism tend to have chronic constipation and diarrhea. But when doctors take good bacteria derived from the stools of very healthy people and transfer them into the gut of someone with autism, they can help those gastrointestinal problems go away.
Now, James Adams and his research colleagues at ASU are realizing the transfer also reduces autism symptoms by about 45%.
“Over time, it just seems their brain is much healthier,” Adams said. “Now they’re able to learn language, learn how to interact socially. They have fewer behavior problems.”
Adams’ own daughter has autism, and he thinks there’s a simple reason behind the mental and social improvements.
“If they’re not in severe constipation, if they’re not in pain and discomfort from having severe diarrhea several times a day, if they’re feeling better, they’re going to be more sociable. They’re going to be happier,” Adams said.
The success isn’t perfect, but it is across the board in the study. Based on responses from parents of patients, every single person in the study had improved symptoms and improved happiness.
“Improvement on awareness, socialization, communication,” Andrew’s mom, Patricia Huerta Walters, said as she listed off the things that have gotten better over the years.
She says her son is OK with changing a routine last-minute, and he’s learning to cope with sensory issues.
“They might sound really not as relevant for others because it’s everyday things that we do,” she said. “But when you live with somebody with autism, you see that that is a huge, huge milestone.”
The study shows that even two years after the initial transfer, the autism patients are still making steady improvements as they gradually begin to catch up with their peers.
“One morning I woke up and he told me, ‘Mom, your cell phone was dead, so I put it on the charger,’” Patricia recounted as an example of how aware her son has become.
Andrew has also able to stand in line alone to buy something, and he’s an active participant in a group chat with his sister and 9 cousins.
“He is working a lot more independently. He’s meeting all the academic goals that we have,” Patricia said.
As of right now, ASU researchers are doing a similar study with adults. They hope to get funding to do another follow-up study with the kids who got the transfer done originally.