Rogue poop; ancestral autism; travel limbo and more

A Tampa clinic goes rogue with fecal transplants, autism’s genetic ancestry traces to our deep past, and the U.S. Supreme Court revives the travel ban.

By Emily Willingham
30 June 2017 | 6 min read
This article is more than five years old.
Neuroscience—and science in general—is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
  • A Tampa clinic is flouting a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on poop transplants, clinically known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). The clinic, reports BuzzFeed, skirts the rules by demonstrating a transplant protocol to families, including parents of children with autism, and then selling clients poop samples for home use. R. David Shepard, the gastroenterologist who runs the clinic, claims the procedures are not transplants but “tutorials” or “instructional infusions.” Currently FMT has the FDA okay only for treatment of Clostridium difficile infections.
  • Tourette syndrome shows some genetic overlap with autism. So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that the two conditions also share some features. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have found that 22.8 percent of children with Tourette syndrome also meet criteria for an autism diagnosis, a rate that fades to 8.7 percent among adults with Tourette syndrome. The findings were published 22 June in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • In a half-hour segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” Oliver riffs at length and with typical candor on vaccines, autism and some of the controversial figures who wrongly insist the two are linked. On the evidence-based side, the segment features Seth Mnookin, author of “The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy,” and Alison Singer, founder of the Autism Science Foundation.

    Oliver noted that even though vaccines have been a success, “small groups are both skeptical and vocal about vaccines, which is nothing new. But these days, their voice has been amplified by the human megaphone that is the president of the United States.” A 2014 tweet from Donald Trump suggested a link between vaccines and autism.

    Oliver wrapped up the segment with a personal note about his young son, born prematurely and now 19 months old. “I still worry about his health a lot,” Oliver says, adding, “but we are vaccinating him fully and on schedule.”

  • Netflix has developed a new series featuring a teen with autism facing down the usual life transitions of a high school senior. The character, Sam Gardner, has a “consuming interest in penguins” and dislikes noisy environments, according to a review this week in USA Today. The comedy, “Atypical,” will be available for streaming on 11 August.
  • Gene variants from our deep past contribute to present-day autism, according to findings published 19 June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at variants in siblings with and without autism and compared these with variants in unrelated people with autism. They found that the siblings with autism share more ancient variants with unrelated individuals on the spectrum than with their own unaffected siblings.
  • If you’re trying to get a handle on how the Senate health care bill might affect Medicaid and its beneficiaries, two resources offer some clarity. CBS News gives a 360-degree look at perspectives and interpretations from around the political landscape. For a regional breakdown, turn to Business Insider’s map of which states are likely to be hardest hit.
  • With the U.S. Supreme Court decision to reinstate part of Donald Trump’s travel ban, foreign scientists worry anew about traveling to the United States for work or conferences. The court ruled that citizens of the six banned nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — must have a “bona fide” connection in the United States to be allowed entry. The New York Times reports 28 June that family connections can be stepsiblings, half-siblings, sons- and daughters-in-law but not grandparents, nieces and nephews or brothers- and sisters-in-law. The Times also reports that someone with an accepted job offer or lecture invitation can enter, although nonprofits aren’t allowed to “seek out” people from the six nations and list them as clients to skirt the ban.

    That said, according to immigration lawyer Brendan Delaney, quoted 26 June in Nature, the phrasing leaves considerable room for interpretation for the scientific community. “Until there is some degree of certainty in how they’re going to apply this language, if I were a research scientist affected by this, I would be reticent right now” about making job or travel decisions, he says.

  • Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy annually affects 1 in 4,500 children with epilepsy, a condition that often co-occurs with autism. It also affects about 1 in 1,000 adults with epilepsy each year. Still, it continues to baffle researchers and members of the epilepsy community. A perspective published 9 June in Nature Reviews Neurology notes that clinicians rarely discuss the risks of sudden death from epilepsy with their clients. New guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society focus on informing patients and caregivers about these risks, despite the topic’s sensitivity. The guidelines state that controlling seizures is critical to reducing sudden death from epilepsy.
  • The evidence of a link between maternal influenza infection during pregnancy and autism in the child continues to seesaw. Results published 21 June in mSphere show no association between the two. The study stands out because researchers objectively confirmed whether or not the mothers had battled influenza during pregnancy.
  • From a tangle of data, researchers have identified mouse models for 360 diseases, including some that previously had no genes associated with them. The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium is developing a catalog of features for knockout mice, identifying previously unknown links between certain traits and the missing genes. To find the models, Damian Smedley, senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, and his colleagues analyzed data for the first 3,328 genes logged into the database. The results appear in the 26 June issue of Nature Genetics.
  • A multimillion-pound charity in the United Kingdom is referring children with autism to clinics that use pseudoscientific ‘treatments,’ reports BuzzFeed. The charity, Caudwell Children, provides families with financial support and a list of registered providers, which includes those that deliver unproven dietary protocols. It also lists a former medical practitioner who reportedly prescribed an infamous bleach product, marketed as “Miracle Mineral Solution,” to at least one child with autism.
  • As therapies based on the gene-editing tool CRISPR enter clinical trials, real-world questions loom about their cost to consumers and whether insurance will cover them. If they’re like other gene-based therapies, reports STAT, the costs could be staggering. As an example, they cite a viral vector-based gene therapy that — priced at $1.4 million per patient — made its mark as the most expensive drug in the world a few years ago.
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