Sunday, April 28, 2013

An Autism Vaccine Based on a Stomach Bug?

Researchers have created what they say is a first-ever vaccine for gut bacteria common in autistic children, which may also help control some autism symptoms. They developed a carbohydrate-based vaccine against the gut bug, Clostridium bolteae.

C. bolteae is known to play a role in gastrointestinal disorders, and it often shows up in higher numbers in the GI tracts of autistic children than in those of healthy kids. More than 90% of children with autism spectrum disorders suffer from chronic, severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Of those, about 75% suffer from diarrhea, according to current literature.

“Little is known about the factors that predispose autistic children to C. bolteae,” says University of Guelph chemistry professor Mario Monteiro, Ph.D. Although most infections are handled by some antibiotics, he says, a vaccine would improve current treatment.

“This is the first vaccine designed to control constipation and diarrhea caused by C. bolteae and perhaps control autism-related symptoms associated with this microbe,” he says.
This is wonderful, and remarkable if true.  It's the first I've heard of a relationship between this GI bug.  The Clostridium bacteria are powerful bugs that produce an array of weird and deadly toxins.  C. botulinum is, of course, a deadly food poisoning bacterium, whose refined toxin, botulinum toxin, is among the most toxic compounds known, is also used as Botox.  C. tetani causes tetanus, in which the tetanus toxin from wound infections causes awful, and ultimately fatal, muscle spasms. C. perfringens causes the disease gas gangrene, the scourge of battlefield historically.  C. difficile causes some very difficult to treat intestinal infections.

Nurotoxin production is a common theme in Clostridium infections, although many species are considered nonpathogenic.  Could a neurotoxin produced by C. bolteae be a significant cause of autism symptoms, and could treatment of the C. bolteae result in reduction or elimination of the autistic symptoms, especially if caught early?  Could the vaccine prevent autism?

We used to think that ulcers were caused by hot and spicy food (despite the fact that people who ate a hot and spicy diet were no more predisposed to ulcers than anyone else).  A brave scientist, Barry Marshall,  proposed that they were caused by an infection of the stomach by Helicobacter pylori, and induced a case in himself by infecting himself with the bacteria, and then curing himself with antibiotics.  It revolutionized the treatment of ulcers, and won Marshall and his collaborator, Robin Warren, the Nobel Prize in medicine.

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