In a truly fascinating exchange on the Evidence of Harm Yahoo Group, David Kirby has revealed:
…the studies which, when taken together, suggest a plausible biological mechanism for mercury exposure as a contributing factor to regressive autism
The exchange came about as a ‘renegade’ poster to that group started laying down a smidgen of fact regarding the state of the science that props up the thiomersal hypothesis. S/he is not a popular bunny on that group.
The exchange led group big cheese Lenny Schafer to state:
It seems that junk science is in the eye of the beholder. It will probably take an impartial jury in a court of law to substantially settle if there is enough evidence of harm to implicate thimerosal and or vaccines in autism.
Anyway, back to David Kirby. Hot on the heels of his amusing further goalpost shifting (somehow the non-decrease in autism numbers which, in 2005 and 2006 would be a grave blow to the thiomersal hypothesis are now suddenly nothing to trouble this teflon coated hypothesis) comes this – David Kirby’s statement on the existing studies which support mercury exposure (what? Not ‘MERCURY _IN VACCINES_ AND THE AUTISM EPIDEMIC: A MEDICAL CONTROVERSY’ David? Just any old mercury now is it? Bless you for exposing the courage of your convictions.)
So which studies float David’s boat? This is his list:
Richard Deth, Northeastern U;
Martha Herbert, Harvard U;
Jill James, Univ of Arkansas;
Thomas Burbacher, Univ of Washington;
Diana Vargas, Johns Hopkins;
Isaac Pessah, UC Davis;
Mady Hornig, Columbia U;
Mark Noble, Univ of Rochester.
Eight people, eight studies. Thise is the ‘science’ that David thinks suggest a plausible mechanism for mercury being a contributing factor for regressive autism.
As an amusing aside, don’t you love (and appreciate!) how careful David is becoming with his choice of words these days? No more of this ‘thiomersal causes autism’ stuff for him! Now its’mercury’ (not ‘MERCURY _IN VACCINES_ AND THE AUTISM EPIDEMIC: A MEDICAL CONTROVERSY’) and instead of ‘causing’ we have ‘contributing factor’ and instead of autism we now have ‘regressive autism’. best of all we have ‘suggest’ instead of MERCURY IN VACCINES AND THE AUTISM EPIDEMIC. Bless him, all the blog reading he’s been doing from the skeptical folks is finally paying off.
So, lets turn our attention to these studies of David’s. First of all we should note that the Mark Noble cite is a red herring (you lose skeptic points for that David) as, if I’m not mistaken, this study is a) a pilot study and b) not as yet underway. Certainly none of the other ten studies PubMed attributes to Noble, M. appear to discuss autism. Naughty naughty.
Deth’s paper, if I may quote myself, can be summed up thusly:
The basic gist of the Deth paper is that various toxins, including thimerosal, affect methionine synthase activity (a process that helps in building proteins) and that this can adversely affect children. In short, the Deth paper alleges that thimerosal causes methionine synthase dysfunction (MSD).
There are several issues with this as they relate to autism. Firstly, MSD and autism do not resemble each other. Symptoms of MSD are: Anemia, moderate to severe developmental delay, lethargy, anorexia, and homocystinuria (mental retardation, dislocation of the crystalline lens of the eye, sparse blond hair, and cardiovascular and skeletal deformities). Further issues:
1) There is no active transport mechanism into the central nervous system currently known for ethylmercury (thimerosal) whereas there is an known and active transport mechanism for methylmercury.
2) Because its half-life is much longer, methylmercury is more likely to accumulate than ethylmercury, causing higher levels of mercury in the blood.
3) Exposing cells in vitro to ethylmercury eliminates the most important difference between those two forms of mercury, and ignores the fact that ethylmercury is unlikely to enter the central nervous system at concentrations likely to be harmful.
4) The authors chose to use a cell line derived from a metastatic peripheral nervous system tumor to make predictions about developing healthy cells of the central nervous system. If the authors were interested in making claims about the developing central nervous system they should use cells derived from there.
5) The authors make statements in their introduction about developmental disorders such as fetal alcohol syndrome, Rhett’s syndrome, or Fragile-X syndrome, they fail to consider the fact that all of these diseases have their origins in the developing embryo and fetus, not postnatally.
6) The authors’ reference a study that evaluated the causal association between thimerosal and vaccines using the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). Remember how good VAERS is?
Bart Cubbins produced a video detailing similar points.
Martha Herbert and Dianne Vargas
These two papers independeintly of each other indicated a role for neuroinflammation in autism (<a href="http://www.generationrescue.org/pdf/herbert.pdf" rel="nofollow"Herbert here and Vargas here but they differ slightly. The Vargas paper states:
neuroinflammatory process appears to be associated with an ongoing and chronic mechanism of CNS dysfunction
and leaves it at that. Herbert specualtes with no basis regarding the fact that metals might play a part in the neuroinflammation. She has no basis for these speculations and it surprises me that they’re in a paper published in such a good journal.
Jill James’s studies revolve around glutathione. Glutathione, amongst other things, removes merucry from the human body. James’ studies purport to show that autistic people are deficient in Glutathione and thus when they get mercury they can’t excrete it in the same way non-autistic people do.
However, they don’t. James tried to show that the two types of Glutathione in the body (what she called Active and Inactive) were about 31% (Active) and 33% (Inactive) less in autistic kids than non-autistic kids. However, it should be noted that these are not two differing forms of Glutathione but instead two states of one thing which have a relationship to each other – when one goes up, the other goes down. As Not Mercury states:
Decreased synthetic capability is one possible explanation but this would probably result in a significant deficit of total glutathione not an imbalance between the two oxidation states. _If James found any evidence of impaired glutathione synthesis in this small group of children it wasn’t included in any of her published work_. It doesn’t sound like the children were suffering from a glutathione deficiency as much as an increased oxidative burden greater than the capacity to recycle and glutathione and maintain full oxidative defense capacity.
No deficiency in Glutathione. But Not Mercury takes it a step further:
let’s suppose children with autism had significantly lower levels of glutathione. Would it render them unable to detoxify thimerosal from vaccines? Probably not.
The average human carries about 6milligrams mercury, even if James’ figures were accurate (which they are clearly not) or represent what she claims they do (which they clearly don’t) then the human body would still have several million times more glutathione than needed to excrete the suspect mercury. As Not Mercury says:
A person so severely deficient in glutathione they would be unable to detoxify 250 micrograms of mercury (upper limit of thiomersal in vaccines 5 years ago) probably wouldn’t survive long enough to be vaccinated in the first place. Every breath of air would expose them to lethal levels of ozone, pollutants and other oxidants.
Please read all of Not Mercury’s piece. It’s an eye opener.
This paper reached one conclusion.
The key findings of the current study are the differences in the disposition kinetics and demethylation rates of thimerosal and MeHg. Consequently, MeHg is not a suitable reference for risk assessment from exposure to thimerosal derived Hg. Knowledge of the biotransformation of thimerosal, the chemical identity of the Hg-containing species in the blood and brain, and the neurotoxic potential of intact thimerosal and its various biotransformation products, including ethylmercury are urgently needed to afford a meaningful interpretation of the potential developmental effects of immunization with thimerosal-containing vaccines in newborns and infants. This information is critical if we are to respond to public concerns regarding the safety of childhood immunizations
In other words, Burbacher blood vs brain is not a valid comparison and that methHG vs ethHG is not valid either. He then goes on to state that more research is needed into what the toxic effects of thimerosal might be. He states that mercury from vaccines doesn’t accumulate as much in blood as it does in the brain and thusly, using blood levels of mercury to represent brain levels of mercury is innacurate.
It was also presented that this paper connected the dots between thiomersal and neuroinflammation (see Herbert and Vargas) but this is a false representation and not claimed or even insinuated by Burbacher.
Two more issues arose from this paper. Firstly, when the Burbacher team performed the extraction of mercury from the blood or brain matter, they failed to introduce controls to ensure that the thimerosal was not degraded in any way as a result of the extraction process. This means they had to basically assume from the resultant possibly contaminated material how much was attributable to methylmercury and how much to thimerosal (ethylmercury). Secondly, Burbacher used thimerosal free vaccines and added pure thimerosal. It is difficult to know how this fresh preparation compares with vaccine formulas when thimerosal is part of the manufacturing process and may have suffered some degradation to inorganic Hg in the vials before administration.
The Pessah paper related how the study team found that thiomersal administered to mice caused “dendritic cells” damage. Specifically:
the thimerosal disrupted the normal biological signals that take place in cells, Pessah said. At lower concentrations, the signal disruption caused an inflammatory response; at higher concentrations it caused cell death.
So the position here is that thimerosal has a negative effect on the immune system. Lots of parents think autism is immune-system related. However, this study is a) unreplicated (as far as I know) and b) we may be overestmating the real world effect. Here’s Autism Diva talking about hearing Pessah on Autism One radio.
But the really weird thing is how he described how long the effect would last when the dendritic cells came into contact with mercury. If Autism Diva understood him correctly, lets say a kid gets injected with a vaccine containing thimerosal and the dendritic cells that come into contact with the thimerosal. This is not necessarily all the dendritic cells–some of them, and the DCs are affected by the thimerosal, depending on how much thimerosal they come into contact with. And this effect lasts…. years and years? Is that what he said? No.
Was it months and months? Is that what he said? Maybe it was days and days? Hours and hours? No, actually, what he said, if Autism Diva heard him correctly, was “minutes and minutes.”
So, we know that if you take dendritic cells of a particular kind out of a mouse, and grow them in a glass dish and dump a weak solution of thimerosal on them, they freak out or get a little weird and either way can’t do their job normally, and this effect lasts for,
minutes and minutes.
And speaking of Autism Diva we come around to:
Briefly, Mady Horning conducted a study wherein she claimed to have developed a mouse model for autism which she then used to test how the model responded to the introduction of thiomersal. According to Hornig, the study showed that:
1. The mice they used are a good model for autistic people
2. The ‘vaccine’ schedule they used successfully mimicks childhood immunization programs
3. That the outcomes from Auto-immune disease sensitive mice were consistent with autism
4. That this indicates a genetically influenced sensitivity to thimerosal in autistic people
Autism Diva took this study apart when she pointed out that:
Did Dr. Hornig and colleagues find these features [diagnostic criteria for autism] in the ‘SJL Thim” mice?’ No.
Prometheus also had reservations about the design of the study:
So, the human experiences a maximum blood level of 1.63 (arbitrary units) and the mouse – since it is being dosed at a smaller fraction of its half-life – sees a maximum blood level of 2.61. In short, the mouse gets to a blood level 60% higher than the human……I found myself wondering, “Why didn’t they use the 50th percentile (50% weigh more than this weight, 50% weigh less – sort of an ‘average weight’)?” I have no answer – but I have an idea. By using the 10th percentile, they were able to give the baby mice an even bigger dose of mercury……So, by using the 10th percentile weights, the authors were able to give the mice about 15% more thimerosal. This goes nicely with the dosing schedule to significantly raise the dose the mice receive.
One of the big talking points from this study was reported by David Kirby in Evidence of Harm:
… putting up a photo of two mice. “He has groomed through the skull, and eventually destroys his partner,” Hornig said. Every parent of an autistic kid in the room could be seen grimacing in dark recognition of such destructive behavior.”(page 312)
Uh-huh, or maybe they were just grimacing as its not nice looking at mice chewing through the skulls of other mice?
Anyway, hyperbole aside, why did Hornig choose those particular mice? Here’s what else Autism Diva found out.
Why did Hornig pick the SJL/J mice in particular?….Besides being an “autoimmune disease-sensitive” breed what else is known about the SJL/J mice?
Good question. Diva found the answer highly revealing:
1. High spontaneous fighting….
2. Severe fighting among males housed together, beginning at about 8 weeks.
3. Most males will be killed by 4-5 months unless caged separately….
Diva also found a separate source that showed that:
…some breeds do a kind of agressive grooming of other mice called, “barbering”
So, it seems that Hornig sourced a set of mice known to be aggressive, she then systematically overdosed them and then reported the fact that this aggression was indicative of autism. Right.
Wrapping It Up
A study that hasn’t yet been done. A study that alleges something it can’t back up. A study with no data and empty conclusions. Two studies that have nothing discernable to do with heavy metals. A study that shows ethylmercury and methylmercury are not comparable. A study that damages cells taken from a mouse for the span of minutes and a study that purposefully overdosed mice known to be aggressive.
Lets remind ourselves of the Judge;s opinion of this same body of science when it was presented by Dr Geier in the RhoGAM hearings as support for the view that thiomersal causes autism:
…the Court notes that, in fact, a literature review can be an appropriate part of a method of determining general causation. However, a literature review must still be performed appropriately. As revealed by his testimony at the Daubert hearing, Dr. Geier, however, relied upon a number of disparate and unconnected studies, including the findings of Dr. Haley and Dr. Lucier, to reach a piecemeal conclusion with respect to general causation…..However, upon being subjected to extensive cross examination, much of Dr. Geier’s analysis, based upon his collective review of a motley assortment of diverse literature, proved, in the Court’s view, to be overstated.