John Rodakis was nowhere near interested in launching an investigation into the relationship of antibiotics and autism but when he saw that his son's condition improved while taking antibiotic medication to treat strep throat, he knew that he was on to something.
Coincidentally, Rodakis was also a medical venture capitalist. He has a Harvard MBA as well and a molecular biology background and he used these to start examining medical literature to support what he had observed in his son. He found a 1999 study conducted at the Chicago Rush Children's Hospital documenting similar results in autistic children. Rodakis talked to clinicians and other parents and found out that while antibiotic's effects on autism are commonly observed, they are not well studied.
Undeterred, he continued his research, which brought him to the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute where he met Dr. Richard Frye and his Autism Research Program team. Rodakis and Frye's collaboration grew, including other researchers from various medical disciplines from various parts of the globe.
From this collaboration, two ideas popped out: that a research trial should be designed to better understand the relationship between antibiotics and autism and that a scientific conference should be held to discuss the microbiome and autism.
A first-of-its-kind gathering was held in June 2014, an international symposium on the role of the microbiome in disease and health with a special focus on autism disorders. The conference was co-sponsored by N of One: Autism Research Foundation, a non-profit formed by Rodakis. This resulted in a special issue on the microbiome and autism in the journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. Rodakis also published an article in the issue discussing his journey and the possible mechanisms of biology working to produce the results he and others have observed in autistic children taking antibiotics.
The father reiterates that the microbiome is a promising area of research. Antibiotics may not necessarily cure autism but the medication's effect on the body, particularly in gut bacteria, help in further understanding the condition Rodakis' son and thousands others have.
"I love [my son] unconditionally regardless of his autism ... but because I have seen what is possible, I will endeavor to promote research that benefits all children with autism and to remove all impediments from him becoming the fullest embodiment of who he can be," said Rodakis, striving for consistent research that will prove the relationship between the microbiome and autism.
Photo: Iqbal Osman | Flickr