Doctor Says Antibiotic Worth Look for Autism

The Florida Times Union, July 18, 2000 | Go to article overview

Doctor Says Antibiotic Worth Look for Autism


WASHINGTON -- First, parents clamored for the hormone secretin in hopes it would help their autistic children. Put to the test, however, secretin is proving disappointing.

Now a new theory is triggering desperate parents' interest -- and this time the stakes are higher because it could spur misuse of the nation's most precious antibiotic, vancomycin.

An Illinois mother persuaded scientists to try the bizarre-sounding experiment of testing whether vancomycin might help her son's severe autism. To their surprise, little Andrew Bolte got better.

Richard Sandler of Rush Children's Hospital in Chicago was skeptical of Ellen Bolte's theory that a neurotoxin-producing intestinal infection was behind some of her son's symptoms.

Sandler administered the antibiotic anyway, and afterward Andrew "was not cured, but all of a sudden he started saying words, became toilet-trained," Sandler recalled. "I found that very intriguing. It's not supposed to happen."

So Sandler treated an additional 11 autistic children who, like about a third of children with this serious brain disorder, also suffer painful gastrointestinal problems. Neuropsychological testing concluded that 10 children improved, he reports in this month's Journal of Child Neurology, but only for a while.

And that's the problem: Andrew and the others worsened after just a few months. Yet already, parents are calling doctors about vancomycin, considered the best weapon against antibiotic-resistant infections. But the rush to vancomycin is worrisome, because overuse of the drug spurs germs to become impervious to it.

"It is a danger," said Sandler, who calls it inappropriate to try vancomycin until more research proves if it is a real clue or a false lead.

Another Chicago doctor, Michael Chez, plans to compare vancomycin to a dummy drug this fall to help rule out the so-called "placebo effect. …

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