Stories about: gastroenterology

Probing the link between autism, GI disorders and the microbiome

autism microbiome
(Dubova/Shutterstock)

Sonia A. Ballal is an attending physician in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Eleven-year-old Lyle has autism and doesn’t speak, but his mother is used to reading his nonverbal cues. He prefers a routine, but has always been a generally cheerful child who enjoys school and playing with his little sister.

Several weeks before I met Lyle (not his real name), his mother observed a dramatic shift. He was agitated, at times hitting his head against the wall, not receiving his typical sunny reports from school.

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The silk scaffold: A promising road to hollow organ reconstruction

Silk photo_black backgroundSilk production and global interest in the lustrous fiber date back to prehistoric times. Today, the natural protein is solidifying itself as a biomaterials alternative in the world of regenerative medicine.

A recent study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital urologist Carlos Estrada, MD and bioengineer Joshua Mauney, PhD, shows two-layer, biodegradable silk scaffolds to be a promising cell-free, “off-the-shelf” alternative to traditional implants for the reconstruction of hollow gastrointestinal structures such as the esophagus.

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Of bugs, genes, development and intestinal biology

genes intestinal developmentThe collection of bacteria and other microorganisms living in our intestines—our microbiota—is now understood to play an important role in our physiology. Recent research indicates that it helps regulate our metabolism, immune system and other biological processes, and that imbalances in the microbiota are associated with everything from inflammatory bowel disease to diabetes.

Seth Rakoff-Nahoum, MD, PhD, wants to take this understanding to a new level. An infectious disease clinical fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, he has systematically probed how genetics interact with environment—including the microbiota—to shape intestinal biology during different stages of development.

His investigations provide interesting clues to disorders that have their origins early in life, ranging from necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns to Hirschsprung’s disease (marked by poor intestinal motility) to food allergies.

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Copper: How much is enough for children fed through an IV?

Just like today's pennies, our bodies have only a little bit of copper in them. But what we have, we need. Danielle Arsenault wants to understand how much copper is enough for children fed via an IV. (stevendepolo/Flickr)

Check the nutrition label on just about any packaged food, and you’ll see how much carbohydrate or salt, or how many calories, are lurking inside waiting for you. But that label won’t give you the whole nutritional picture. How much magnesium does your bag of chips contain? Or iodine, or copper?

These elements are all on the list of human micronutrients: nutrients that help maintain many of the critical biochemical processes within our cells. And while we only need them in very small amounts, micronutrient deficiencies can be devastating, even fatal.

Most of us get the micronutrients we need from our diet (chips aside), but for children whose digestive tracts can’t process regular food – such as those with intestinal disorders like short bowel syndrome (SBS) – getting the right amount of micronutrients is a different story. These children often often have to get all their nutrition intravenously through a process called parenteral nutrition (PN).

Since dieticians can tailor the nutrients given to a child on PN, you’d think that it would be easy to get the right amount of micronutrients, like copper, into the mix. But that isn’t necessarily so.

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