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Study funded by GoodLife Fitness CEO links autism to gut bacteria


GoodLife Fitness founder and CEO David Patchell-Evans (Photo: Sean J. Sprague)

GoodLife Fitness founder and CEO David Patchell-Evans (Photo: Sean J. Sprague)

A new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry identified a unique blood marker that links gut bacteria and children diagnosed with autism.

According to researchers, the discovery lays the groundwork for future blood tests to screen for autism and treat the condition early. The study was done by Dr. Derrick MacFabe, director of the University of Western Ontario’s Kilee Patchell-Evans Research Group, in collaboration with colleagues from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Dr. MacFabe told The Toronto Star, “This paper shows we think environmental factors could play a much more major role than was previously thought,” he said. “We’re looking at trying to find early ways of screening, and more importantly, not just to screen but to identify early.”

One person not named in the study who should get some credit for any advancements it fosters is GoodLife Fitness CEO David Patchell-Evans. “Patch,” as he likes to be called, founded the research group at Western, named for his daughter, with Dr. MacFabe almost a decade ago and has contributed more than $4 million to its efforts. In 2003,  MacFabe contacted Patch after he had heard the GoodLife founder’s daughter Kilee had been diagnosed autistic and thought Patch might be able to help with his fledgling research effort.

I spoke to McFabe for a 2011 feature on Patchell-Evans and Goodlife and he said Patch’s contributions went well beyond a financial transaction. “He’s used his ingenuity to fundraise and assist in development using his creativity and business acumen,” said MacFabe at the time. “It’s not just writing a cheque.”

MacFabe originally asked Patch for $10,000 and the GoodLife CEO responded, “Why are you asking for so little?” before making an initial donation of about $750,000. MacFabe said Patch has lent a hand help setting up infrastructure, even help negotiating for equipment. “He’d negotiate with these obscure biotechnology companies to get us the equipment we need,” said MacFabe. “And when the recession hit, I just asked him if he could maintain the support. But he said, this is when we push further because this is when people who are sincere keep working on these things.”

In 2011, the group’s findings regarding the link between gut bacteria and autism has been listed among the Top 50 scientific discoveries in Canada by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. “The research has done well, and there’s no way it could’ve been done if we didn’t have this committed pit bull to make this work go,” said McFabe of Patchell-Evans’ support at the time. “He’s played a bigger role than I think anybody realizes.”