The connection between gastrointestinal problems and autism will be the focus of a new patient study led by Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Previous research has shown that gastrointestinal problems are more common among individuals with autism, and may worsen behavioral symptoms,” said 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.

Versalovic and his team at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital received a $1.4 million, three-year grant from Autism Speaks to initiate the study.  Dr. Ruth Ann Luna, an assistant professor of pathology at Baylor and director of medical metagenomics within the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center, will co-lead the multi-center project.

The study will focus on children with autism who also have gastrointestinal problems and compare results from their microbiome and metabolome studies to those of children with autism and no gastrointestinal problems.

The study will also include children who do not have autism but have gastrointestinal problems, those who have neither autism or gastrointestinal disorders, and the unaffected siblings of children who have autism.

It will seek to better understand whether a biological connection exists between autism and gastrointestinal problems and what that connection could be.

Versalovic, an expert in the study of the human microbiome – the population of microbes that are part of the human body- will focus on the gut’s microbiome, looking specifically at bacteria found there.

“We will look for signs of metabolic disturbances in the children participating in this study,” said Versalovic, principal investigator of the Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital site.

“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” said Luna.

The study will enroll 375 children ages 4 through 12 at three sites 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.

For more information on the study or to enroll, contact Dr. Luna at raluna@bcm.edu or 832-824-1894.