New hope for autism: Canadian researcher reports to Sweden's Nobel Forum

LONDON, ON, March 5, 2015 /CNW/ - Dr. Derrick MacFabe, Director of the Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group, Western University, London, Ontario, recently returned from presenting at the 2015 "Nobel Forum Symposium "The Gut in Focus". Symposium organizers invited MacFabe to report on the work he and his international team of researchers are doing on the escalating problem of autism in children. MacFabe was one of only 10 researchers invited to present.


The Nobel Forum conference, held at Sweden's famed Karolinska Institute each year, was chaired by the Karolinska's Dr. Tore Midtvedt, a pioneer and world authority on the role that human microbes play in health and disease. The symposium discussed increasing evidence from human and animal studies that recent alterations in host microbes, termed the "microbiome", have impacted countries worldwide by the overuse of antibiotics, disinfectants, C-section deliveries, and even diet.  The conference's findings support that these changes are largely responsible for the rise in obesity, some cancers, immunological disorders and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, a major focus for the conference.

"When I read his first article several years ago, I recognized a young scientist developing novel ideas regarding the complicated continuous interplay between the gut and the brain. I have followed his publications ever since. It goes without saying that Dr. MacFabe is the front-runner in this field," said Dr. Midtvedt.

Autism rates have skyrocketed from 1 in 10,000 a half a century ago to 1 in 68 persons today. Expert opinion and funding to date has mostly focused on genetic causes and have attempted to explain the increase as better reporting of autism cases. MacFabe's research points strongly in another direction: changes in our gut bacteria. 

Dr. MacFabe and his colleagues have shown that compounds, known as short chain fatty acids, which are produced by bacteria found in our intestines affect brain function and behaviour. Collaborating with Dr. Richard Frye of the University of Arkansas, their research has shown that these compounds affect the efficiency of mitochondria, the energy storehouse of cells.

Work with Dr. Bistra Nankova of New York Medical College has revealed that these fatty acid products can also act as epigenetic modulators, in effect acting as "switches" for many autism associated genes known to affect neural development and transmission, but also those involved in inflammation and energy metabolism, also reported in autism.

MacFabe, whose work has been featured on CBC Television's The Nature of Things, says these associated autism genes need not only be irreversibly damaged but can actually be switched on and off by compounds produced by autism associated intestinal bacteria. This provides an important link between the gut and the brain in autism. It also lends credibility to reports from parents who often see a connection between digestive upsets and autism symptoms in their children, he says.  Such symptoms include impaired language, repetitive behaviours, restricted interests, social impairment and self-injurious behaviour, but often of a variable course or severity.

Dr. Suzanne Lewis, Director of the Autism Spectrum Interdisciplinary Research (ASPIRE) Program, Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia has worked collaboratively with Dr. MacFabe for the past six years. Dr. Lewis states: "Genetic changes alone cannot explain the rising rate of autism within one generation. We need to look at environmental factors that can impact autism behaviours, for which a growing evidence points to changes involving the gut microbiome."

David Patchell-Evans, founder and CEO of GoodLife Fitness and co-founder of the Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group has donated more than $5 million to the research team, named after his daughter, who is a young adult with autism. He recently donated another $5 million to the Pacific Autism Family Centre Foundation in Richmond, British Columbia that will be named the GoodLife Fitness Family Autism Hub.

SOURCE Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group

Image with caption: "Dr. Derrick MacFabe, from the Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group at Western University, recently returned from the Nobel Forum Symposium titled “The Gut in Focus”, where he reported on the work he and his international team of researchers are doing on the escalating problem of autism in children. (CNW Group/Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group)". Image available at:

For further information: Dr. Derrick MacFabe: Director, Kilee Patchell Evans Autism Research Group:; Dr. Tore Midtvedt, Karolinska Institute:; Dr. Suzanne Lewis: Pediatrics/Genetics University of British Columbia:; To arrange interviews for Dr. Derrick MacFabe and/or David Patchell-Evans: Contact: Michael Dunn,, Phone: (902) 422-6014


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