BICARE grant supports health of children with autism

Friday 19 October 2018

Mater Researcher Dr Jake Gratten has received more than $98,000 in funding to progress research into anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders in autistic children. 

The Grant was awarded by Brain Injured Children’s Aftercare Recovery Endeavours (BICARE)—a joint initiative of Mater Young Adult Health Centre Brisbane, Mater Research, Queensland Brain Institute and Mater Foundation.

Dr Gratten’s research is motivated by the need to improve the lives of children with autism.

“If we can understand the role of the gut microbiota in anxiety and functional gastrointestinal disorders, then there is a possibility that we can determine how to modify the gut microbiota to relieve these symptoms.”

Children with autism suffer disproportionately from anxiety and functional gastrointestinal disorders and Dr Gratten said gut bacteria may contribute to this via the gut-brain axis.

“There is currently no way to investigate what is happening in the gut lining, which is the tissue most centrally involved in cross-talk with the gut microbiome,” said Dr Gratten.

“This study will develop new methods for non-invasive investigation of the gut lining using cutting-edge human genomics approaches.

“We anticipate that this missing piece of the puzzle will help in understanding how the gut microbiota contributes to anxiety and functional gastrointestinal disorders in autistic children.”

This research is just the beginning for Dr Gratten and his team.

“The first steps are to develop the methods for isolating gut epithelial cells, and for quantifying the genes that are turned on in those cells. Once those methods are up and running we will begin collecting data from autistic children with and without anxiety,” he said.

“Our goal is to integrate data on the gut microbiome with data on gene expression in the gut epithelium.”

Mrs Dorothy Stringer OAM, President of BICARE Inc., said that she thoroughly enjoyed reading Dr Gratten’s application and was pleased to award him the funds.  She looks forward to Dr Gratten meeting with the fundraising volunteers from BICARE Inc. and others who are making a difference in the lives of young people with brain injuries.

De Gratten said he felt humbled, knowing that this grant is supported by the work of many selfless BICARE volunteers.

“I feel a deep responsibility to use these funds to generate new knowledge that ultimately translates to improving the lives of children with autism,” he said.

“Childhood mental health represents one of the biggest challenges facing our health services and society more broadly. I believe that genomics-based research offers the best opportunities to make discoveries that translate into improved quality of life and treatment options for children living with autism and other mental health conditions.”


Dr Jake Gratten is a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Career Development Fellow and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), The University of Queensland. He leads the Cognitive Health Genomics group at Mater Research with a team of two postdocs and two RHD students.

The BICARE Project Grant is a joint initiative of Mater Young Adult Health Centre Brisbane, Mater Research and Queensland Brain Institute, supported by BICARE and Mater Foundation and is designed to focus on neurological disorders and/or mental health research for children and young people. The scheme enables practicing clinicians or other health professionals to increase their research activity by providing salary and consumable support.