Better Way to Diagnose Autism May Lie in the Gut

Study suggests children on the spectrum have unique microbial markers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2024 12:27 PM CDT
Better Way to Diagnose Autism May Lie in the Gut
   (Getty / libre de droit)

Diagnosing autism remains a tricky, subjective task, one that relies largely on observation and analysis. A new study suggests that might change in a big way—with future patients diagnosed through a stool sample, reports the Guardian. A study of more than 1,600 children ages 1 to 13 found that autistic children appear to have signature markers in their gut microbiome, reports the New York Times. If the research out of the Chinese University of Hong Kong holds up, it suggests that a future test for such biomarkers through a stool sample could provide a quick, inexpensive, and early diagnosis.

"Too much is left to questionnaires," microbiome researcher Sarkis Mazmanian of the California Institute of Technology tells the Times. "If we can get to something we can measure—whatever it is—that's a huge improvement." The idea that the gut microbiome plays a role in some kind in autism is not new, but this study—published in Nature Microbiology—is seen as the most comprehensive to date on the subject. It looked not just at intestinal bacteria in the digestive tract but in other microorganisms such as fungi, viruses, and archaea, per a release at Science Alert.

Lead study author Qi Su notes that most autism diagnoses are not made until about age 6. "Our microbiome biomarker panel has a high performance in children under the age of 4, which may help facilitate an early diagnosis." It's possible that the gut may not just be a factor in diagnosis but in treatment as well, per the Guardian. The study "raises the prospect of personalized interventions that use diet or live bacteria known as probiotics to establish a more diverse microbiome in those diagnosed with the condition." (More autism stories.)

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