Tom Insel to leave NIMH

4 Oct

Tom Insel has been the director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health for 13 years. He chaired three incarnations of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), taking that chair shortly after the first IACC was seated.

He will be joining Alphabet (Google) in the Google Life Sciences team.

As chair of the IACC, Insel has shown that he kept a very close watch on autism research and an interest in the autism community. More than one could normally expect from the chair. And this isn’t just my observation. I’ve had others who watch the IACC and NIH closely tell me this.

I wish him well in his next effort.

Here is Tom Insel’s statement from the NIH website:

Dr. Tom Insel to Step Down as NIMH Director

After 13 years as NIMH Director, I have decided to move on. I will be leaving NIMH at the beginning of November. These years serving as director have been inspiring, at times challenging, and ultimately gratifying beyond anything I might have imagined when I arrived in 2002. I was fortunate to serve under two visionary NIH directors, Elias Zerhouni and Francis Collins, and to work with extraordinary Institute and Center Directors. I will be leaving a team of gifted and dedicated colleagues within NIMH. The NIMH has accomplished so much during this past decade — progress in neuroscience, progress in diagnostics and therapeutics, and, most of all, progress toward a focus on the needs of people with serious mental illness. To be able to work on such important problems with such talented people has been the high point of my professional career.

Why am I leaving? I had always planned to depart after 10 years. I stayed longer because of the fun of first launching a new Institute, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and then the BRAIN Initiative, as well as my passion for what we have been doing at NIMH. I am not leaving because of a problem or crisis. Indeed, I chose this moment because I wanted to leave at a high point: for the first time in many years we have a complete and completely outstanding leadership team at NIMH, we have excellent engagement from the advocacy community, we have unprecedented support from Congress, and we have an inspiring strategic plan. I want to step away at the best of times with all signs pointing to a bright future.

In terms of my own future, I am certainly not planning to retire. I am currently working out the final details for a move to the life sciences team at Google (or rather, Alphabet, now!). The Google Life Sciences (GLS) team is developing new technologies to transform healthcare, such as a contact lens with an embedded glucose monitor. The GLS mission is about creating technology that can help with earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions. I am joining the team to explore how this mission can be applied to mental illness. That the life sciences team at Google would establish a major exploration into mental health is by itself a significant statement — recognizing the burden of illness from psychosis, mood disorders, and autism as well as the opportunity for technology to make a major impact to change the world for the millions affected. The Google philosophy has been to seek a 10x impact on hard problems. I am looking forward to a 10x challenge in mental health.

A national search for a new NIMH Director will be launched, but in the meanwhile Dr. Collins has issued an official statement appointing Dr. Bruce Cuthbert as Acting Director. Bruce has held a number of leadership positions at NIMH, including leading our RDoC initiative as well as the NIMH Division of Adult Translational Research. He is an internationally recognized researcher. I greatly appreciate his willingness to lead the Institute during this transition period. I know with Bruce at the helm and the leadership team in place at NIMH, I leave the Institute in strong, capable hands.

By Matt Carey

Newsweek: Anti-Vaxxers Accidentally Fund a Study Showing No Link Between Autism and Vaccines

3 Oct

Newsweek has an article up at Newsweek about the recent vaccine study–the one discussed in the press release here. The title of the article pulls no punches: Anti-Vaxxers Accidentally Fund a Study Showing No Link Between Autism and Vaccines

Here’s how it starts:

Most experts today agree that the belief that childhood vaccines cause autism is based on bunk science. Even still, some advocacy groups claim immunizations are responsible for raising the risk for this neurodevelopmental condition, despite a growing body of research that shows there isn’t a link. (The study that most anti-vaccination groups point to was retracted after it was found to be based on falsified data.)

If the title didn’t tip you off that there would be no false balance here, this first paragraph is very clear.

Here’s the second paragraph, where they discuss how SafeMinds, called an organization in the anti-vaccine movement:

Despite the science, organizations involved in the anti-vaccine movement still hope to find some evidence that vaccines threaten children’s health. For example, the autism advocacy organization SafeMinds recently funded research it hoped would prove vaccines cause autism in children. But this effort appears to have backfired for the organization—whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism—since the study SafeMinds supported showed a link between autism and vaccines does not exist.

SafeMinds, even though they funded the study and were kept aware of the progress, even though they knew the methods and approved of them, wants to do their own analysis.

But Sallie Bernard, president of SafeMinds, says she would at least like to see a re-analysis of the newest data. “We feel that embedded within these data sets there are animals that have potentially an adverse reaction to this vaccine schedule that would mirror what happens in human infants,” she says. “The majority who get vaccines are fine, but we believe there is a subset that have an adverse reaction to their vaccines. By looking at the raw data, not data in aggregate, we may be able to identify the subgroup that had that reaction.”

And who at SafeMinds would be better qualified than the authors to do this analysis? (who would even be remotely qualified?)

No one.

Has SafeMinds shown excellence in research methods and integrity in the past?


Does anyone doubt that SafeMinds would torture the data to the point of getting the answer they want?

Integrity would be accepting the results of the study they sponsored. SafeMinds lacks that integrity.

Matt Carey

Press Release: New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

30 Sep

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center for Child Health and Development (formerly Thoughtful House). The press release discusses a recent study which investigated the safety of vaccine schedules (present and past) using monkeys as test subjects.

The study is a follow on study to a previous series of pilot studies involving some of the same authors. The pilot studies were considered by many to be an indication of evidence that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. This larger study shows no evidence of adverse effects from vaccines.

Here is the press release:

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – September 28, 2015 – New research finds no evidence that thimerosal- containing vaccines cause negative behaviors or result in neuropathology in infant primates, according to a study that will be published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, conducted by Dr. Dwight German of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, and colleagues, infant rhesus macaques received several pediatric vaccines containing thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in a schedule similar to that given to infants in the 1990s. Other animals received just the measles-mumps- rubella (MMR) vaccine, which does not contain thimerosal, or an expanded vaccine schedule similar to that recommended for US infants today. Control animals received a saline injection.

Regardless of vaccination status, all animals developed normal social behaviors. Cellular analysis of three brain regions, the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus (all known to be altered in autism), was similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated animals.

“This comprehensive analysis of social behavior and neuropathology in 12-18 month old rhesus macaques indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded 2008 vaccine schedule, which is similar to that recommended for US infants today” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, one of the principle investigators working on the study. Hewitson was part of a team of researchers from The Johnson Center; the University of Texas Southwestern; the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory; the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA; and Texas A&M Health Science Center & Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. The data from this study indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques did not result in neuropathological abnormalities,or aberrant behaviors, like those often observed in autism.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology. Bharathi S. Gadad, Wenhao Li, Umar Yazdani, Stephen Grady, Trevor Johnson, Jacob Hammond, Howard Gunn, Britni Curtis, Chris English, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, Gene P. Sackett, C. Nathan Marti, Keith Young, Laura Hewitson and Dwight C. German. PNAS

This article can be downloaded for free here.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, and the Johnson and Vernick families. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR00166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

About The Johnson Center
The mission of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development is to advance the understanding of childhood development through clinical care, research, and education.

Previous Press Releases
For Immediate Release

By Matt Carey

Literature review: HBOT is not recommended for ASD treatement

28 Sep

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT) is one of the many “treatments” that are promoted for autism.   This recent literature review shows that there is no good basis for HBOT and autism.

Or, as the abstract concludes “HBO2 should not be recommended for ASD treatment until more conclusive favorable results and long-term outcomes are demonstrated from well-designed controlled trials.”

Using hyperbaric oxygen for autism treatment: A review and discussion of literature.


To determine whether hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2) therapy should be used for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).


A literature search was performed on PubMed, Cochrane Library and DynaMed for studies evaluating the use of HBO2 for ASD treatment. The studies were then reviewed for the highest quality evidence.


The evidence is weak for the use of HBO2 in ASD, with only one, likely flawed, randomized control study showing treatment benefit.


HBO2 should not be recommended for ASD treatment until more conclusive favorable results and long-term outcomes are demonstrated from well-designed controlled trials.

By Matt Carey

Study shows societal inclusion improves life satisfaction

27 Sep

I know a lot of people will read the title of this post and say, “that’s obvious”. But keep in mind–studies give people a chance to advocate better. Now for the limitations–the study was only on individuals who did not have difficulties in areas of daily living skills. And, yes, the study population did not have intellectual disability.

But with all that, here’s the sentence I’ll highlight from the abstract: “Participating in society was identified as the only factor predicting life satisfaction in individuals with ASD.”

Here is the pubmed link
Psychosocial Functioning and Life Satisfaction in Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder Without Intellectual Impairment.

and here is the abstract:

This study aimed at (a) comparing psychosocial functioning and life satisfaction in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and nonclinical participants and (b) identifying areas of functioning that are most predictive for life satisfaction in individuals with ASD.
A total of 43 adults with ASD without intellectual impairment (age: mean = 31, standard deviation = 10 years; 63% females) and healthy nonclinical individuals (N = 44) were surveyed.
Individuals with ASD reported significant functional impairments and less life satisfaction compared with nonclinical individuals in many areas of life. Although impairments were prominent in domains involving interaction with other people such as understanding and communication, getting along with others, and participation in society, daily living skills (e.g., getting around, self-care, and household) were not different from nonclinical participants. Participating in society was identified as the only factor predicting life satisfaction in individuals with ASD.
There is a need for interventions facilitating functioning on a broad level and support toward societal inclusion for individuals with ASD.

By Matt Carey

Thank you Kevin Moon Loh

25 Sep

An actor in a major musical production has a facebook post about a recent performance. In this performance, an autistic child made noise during a quiet part of the show. And Mr. Loh comes to the defense of the child.

The post begins:

I am angry and sad.
Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater.
That being said- this post won’t go the way you think it will.
You think I will admonish that mother for bringing a child who yelped during a quiet moment in the show. You think I will herald an audience that yelled at this mother for bringing their child to the theater. You think that I will have sympathy for my own company whose performances were disturbed from a foreign sound coming from in front of them.
Instead, I ask you- when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?

Mr. Loh quotes Joseph Papp that theater is created for all people. It’s a message that resonates with my family. We have worked to make the theater experience accessible to our own child and also to other disabled people in our community. I am proud to say that my wife started on this effort even before the idea of a “sensory friendly” performance became big news. Proud not because she was ahead of the curve, but because this shows that this is an effort of passion on her part.

Mr. Loh, I thank you. Theater is for everyone.

By Matt Carey

Autism Speaks founder Bob Wright’s opinion is more important than science

24 Sep

Last year the Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks made a simple and clear statement

“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”

It was nice to finally see someone from Autism Speaks make a clear statement without a lot of equivocation and “leave the door open” language.

But what I think is nice and what Bob Wright, the founder of Autism Speaks, thinks is nice are two different things.  The Wright family is, at least, sympathetic to the idea that vaccines cause autism (and, in at least one case, very outspoken on the idea.)  So perhaps I should have been surprised when Autism Speaks put on their website Rob Ring’s statement together with a statement by Bob Wright.

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.
Rob Ring
Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks
Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually  made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.
Bob Wright
Co-founder, Autism Speaks
Because why should we let the Chief Science Officer have the actual word on what Autism Speaks thinks about an issue of science?  Why let a clear statement stand alone when one can leave the door open with “Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines.”
And that was sad.  A sad move by Autism Speaks.  A sad move by Bob Wright.
But I’ve already written about that.  Why bring it up again now?  Well, because a reader here alerted me to the fact that Bob Wright and Autism Speaks have expunged the statement by their science officer. If one now goes to, one finds only Bob Wright’s statement:
AS backpedals on vaccines
I so want Autism Speaks to be an organization I could support.  And sometimes they seem to be moving in that direction.  But, in the end, they are still clinging to ideas like “vaccines cause autism”, ideas that cause a lot of harm within the autism communities.  And they also take a very stigmatizing approach to the discussion of autism, but that is another discussion.

Autism Speaks pretends to be a science driven organization, but they just aren’t.  The founder is the founder and his opinion means more than the results of scientific studies as expressed by their own Chief Science Officer.

By Matt Carey

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