In March 2010 a federal court found that there was no evidence to support a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, thimerosal, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or any other digestive disorders. Arguments submitted to substantiate the alleged causal link in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims were ruled unpersuasive and that parents of autistic children were not entitled to compensation based on such a notion.
“Petitioners’ theory of vaccine-related causation is scientifically unsupportable,” wrote Special Master Patricia Campbell-Smith in her conclusion with regards to William P. Mead, whose parents, George and Victoria Mead, had filed such a suit.
“In the absence of a sound medical theory causally connecting William’s received vaccines to his autistic condition, the undersigned cannot find the proposed sequence of cause and effect to be logical or temporally appropriate. Having failed to satisfy their burden of proof under the articulated legal standard, petitioners cannot prevail on their claim of vaccine-related causation,” she ruled.
Weeks before, the medical journal The Lancet had retracted the controversial finding which it had published 12 years ago. A 1998 study headed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield purported that thimerosal contained a mercury-derived compound which triggered autism when administered to infants. He was also the lead author in the report that sparked controversy among families with autistic children. Many refused to allow their children to take the vaccine. Thimerosal was eventually removed from infant vaccines in 1999.
Dr. Wakefield’s report was rejected by most medical specialists as well as the Institute of Medicine, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Numerous scientific studies also failed to prove an existing link.
The General Medical Council which oversees doctors in Britain has found that Dr. Wakefield acted unethically while conducting the research. “There was a biased selection of patients in The Lancet paper” and that his “conduct in this regard was dishonest and irresponsible,” it stated.
In its retraction The Lancet noted: “It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were ‘consecutively referred’ and that investigations were ‘approved’ by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”
It is hoped that the outcomes will dispel suspicions regarding the MMR vaccine and that dubious parents will allow their children to receive its protection once more. But the question of the true cause of autism is still a mystery and medical experts continue to be befuddled by its continued occurrence in children.
Last year two key studies which employed different methodologies arrived at similar conclusions: autism is on the rise. Four years ago, ASD was said to have occurred in 1 out of every150 children, but the most recent data suggests it’s more likely to be 1 in every 110 children, depending on the study. Research has also revealed that autism is four times more common in boys than girls.
Infant Brain Imaging Study: Researchers Seeking Families to Participate
In the continued search for answers regarding the cause of autism, researchers are now studying the brain development in infants who have an older sibling with ASD. The Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), funded in part by Autism Speaks and an Autism Center of Excellence grant from the National Institutes of Health, will provide a better understanding of early brain development in very young infants at risk for ASD. The findings will also help to identify ASD at an early stage.
As a result of new funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development the study has expanded to include infants and toddlers with Fragile X Syndrome. It is seeking participants between the ages of 6, 12 and 24 months, from families with an infant who has an older sibling with ASD or with an infant diagnosed with Fragile X. All infants will receive developmental screening for ASD as part of the study. Researchers believe those with an older sibling who has ASD are at greater risk of developing the disorder than those without.
Fragile X is a neuro-developmental disorder caused by a single gene mutation. Approximately 1/3 of the children with Fragile X are diagnosed with autism. Researchers believe studying their brain development very early on in their life can provide answers to what happens during brain development, when, and why.
Research intimates that early brain overgrowth in children with autism may coincide with the onset of autism symptoms at the end of the first year of life. By conducting both MRI brain scans and behavioral assessments at these 3 time points, researchers hope to be able to understand the relationship between brain development and the onset of autism symptoms in high risk children.
Findings from the study may also provide important clues to early detection and treatment. Data from the study is being used as part of a larger collaboration which focuses on understanding the influence of gene x environment interactions on brain development. A total of 1,500 children will be examined as part of this large collaboration.
Studies are being conducted at the University of North Carolina, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Washington in Seattle, and Washington University in St. Louis.
Researchers at these institutions are enrolling families with infants to participate in the study.
Infants can be 6 months or younger and have an older sibling with ASD or Fragile X. Brain scans performed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) use magnetic waves, not radiation, and are safe for children. Participants will receive compensation and reimbursement for study related travel.
Interested families can visit http://www.ibis-network.org for study locations in their region.