Mitochondra and vaccines – the science

23 Apr

Dozens of autism cases (and perhaps more) currently filed in so-called Vaccine Court will almost certainly be compensated this year. Why? Because a little girl named Hannah Poling with a supposedly rare mitochondrial condition was recently compensated for her own vaccine injuries, including autism and epilepsy.

But I have personally identified at least a dozen (and there are reports of many more) children with cases in the court who meet the exact same medical criteria as Hannah, and whose cases will almost surely be compensated as well — each time with the attendant media fanfare.

My prediction is that, by Election Day, few Americans will still believe there is absolutely no evidence to link vaccines to at least some cases of regressive autism.

Thus speaks David Kirby in the Huffington Post. On the last point I have no doubt that he is correct. In fact, I’ll take it one step further – few citizens of the world, let alone America ill still believe there is absolutely no evidence to link vaccines to at least some cases of regressive autism.

However, I wish, with all due respect to David, like to highlight the differences in the above statement and the subtitle of his famous book. David talks of linking ‘vaccines to at least some cases of regressive autism’.

That’s quite a tentative statement when compared with the strapline ‘Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic’

But that is really a side issue that I simply can’t resist highlighting. The main talking point was – by a strange quirk of irony – also published today as was David’s piece. The irony comes from David’s certainty that the Poling case means something in the greater scheme of vaccines/autism hypotheses. Once again, he makes the claim that her vaccines was a cause of her autism and once again he thinks this has a meaning to the science.

As my regular readers will note I have – with some frustration – been blogging the responses of some Mitochondrial heavy hitters in recent weeks. They don’t want to be unmasked on my blog but perhaps some of them are happier talking to the mainstream media.

In an article in Scientific American, Nikhil Swaminathan (whom I spent a couple of hours chatting to long distance recently) talks to Salvatore DiMauro who is perhaps the ‘heaviest hitter’ of them all when it comes to mitochondrial issues. He says:

the point mutation mentioned in Poling’s case history–published in the Journal of Child Neurology–would imply that both she and her mother carried the genetic variation in all their tissues. So, he says, “you would expect to see the same results” in both the mother and the daughter. But Poling’s mother, Terry, who is an attorney and a registered nurse, is not autistic.

That suggests the genetic defect responsible for Poling’s condition is part of her nuclear DNA, which is separate from the mitochondrial variety, says DiMauro. This means that, scientifically, from the documents presented in the vaccine court, the Polings did not make a case that deserved compensation.

And even more tellingly, John Shoffner who co-authored the case study paper on Hannah Poling had this say:

Shoffner notes that parents and advocates looking to impugn vaccines as triggers for autism—or mitochondrial disease—need direct, not just circumstantial, evidence. “If you were sitting in a waiting room full of people and one person suddenly fell ill or died or something,” he says, “would you arrest the person sitting right next to them?”

And then there is the killer quote:

Jon Poling, says Shoffner, has been “muddying the waters” with some of his comments. “There is no precedent for that type of thinking and no data for that type of thinking,” Shoffner says.

He’s absolutely right of course.

Jon Poling is in severe danger of becoming the new Andrew Wakefield. If I was going to be presumptuous enough to offer him advice I would urge him to take a step back and consider what he is doing. It is clear that he and his wife have been flirting with the vaccine hypotheses for a number of years. And now already his co-authors are disagreeing with him.

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26 Responses to “Mitochondra and vaccines – the science”

  1. Sullivan April 24, 2008 at 08:07 #

    My prediction is that, by Election Day, few Americans will still believe there is absolutely no evidence to link vaccines to at least some cases of regressive autism.

    By election day, or thereabouts, the decision for the first part of the Omnibus should be in.

    And yet only “…at least some cases of regressive autism”.

    More and more, it looks like people are already looking beyond the Omnibus. They are accepting that the Omnibus has a great chance of being lost, and are working on the strategy of the civil cases that follow.

    A key part of that–get the idea of vaccine injury causing autism into the American psyche, even if it is a few cases.

    Because of that, these statements from DiMauro and Shoffner must be a painful setback.

  2. Ms. Clark April 24, 2008 at 09:36 #

    Quoting Sullivan, because he said it better than I would:

    “More and more, it looks like people are already looking beyond the Omnibus. They are accepting that the Omnibus has a great chance of being lost, and are working on the strategy of the civil cases that follow.

    A key part of that—get the idea of vaccine injury causing autism into the American psyche, even if it is a few cases.”

    Kev, I bet that long conversation with the reporter was interesting.

    I hope some day it is exposed how much spinning of the media the vaccine court lawyers are doing and how much help certain parents are giving those lawyers deliberately to pad their own pay-offs or those of other parents.

  3. Schwartz April 25, 2008 at 08:15 #

    Sullivan, Kev,

    Did you read Dr. Shoffner’s final comments to be relating to the Thimersol causing mito dysfunction hypothesis, or the vaccines can trigger autistic regression by exacerbating mito dysfunction?

    I read it as the former, since Shoffner states that fever could trigger the regression in children with mito dysfunction and fever is a common reaction to vaccines.

    I also don’t think Shoffner’s comments are too much of a blow to anything here. He makes note of a number of interesting things:

    He clearly believes that mito dysfunction plays a role in a significant portion of the autisic population:

    a) He claims 30% are regressive Autism (higher than the 20% I had seen quoted in the past)
    b) He claims a high percentage of Autistic children show markers for mito dysfunction
    c) He states that the period of vulnerability is within a specific age range
    d) He outlines a plausible scenario where fever can trigger the regressive Autism

    If a vaccination occurs in someone with mito dysfunction and can be shown to likely have caused a fever during this period of vulnerability, this provides a very plausible scenario for a vaccine trigger to the autistic regression and thus a vaccine contribution to the damage done.

    IF this all turns out to be true, then there will certainly be calls for better testing/identification and alternate methods for protecting these children from fever and other illnesses that might be prone to triggering the regression during the age period of vulnerability.

  4. Catherina April 25, 2008 at 12:29 #

    but wouldn’t that clash with the “altie” notion that “fever is good for you” and should not be “suppressed”? Not trying to be facetious – just something I have been told time and again, because my children rarely ever have fevers and supposedly (if I believe the sugar pill distributing moms on the playground) this is a “bad thing”.

  5. bones April 25, 2008 at 14:36 #

    Schwartz, would not these children then be misdiagnosed as autistic? In other words, an aggravated mito disorder resulting in encephalopathy (w/ varying ill affect) does not equate to, is not the same as, is not synonymous to, etc….autism. Right?

    Additionaly, someone correct me if I’m wrong, it is my understanding that the fever triggered/aggravated the mito conditon. Right?

    Now if you’re going to argue “Well, yeah, but the vaccine caused the fever… therefore, the vaccine caused the autism”. Then one could concievably ad any variable, capable of causing a fever, to the begining of that train of events. Would you be inclined to say Influenza causes autism?

  6. Steve D April 25, 2008 at 15:20 #

    Bones said:

    “Now if you’re going to argue “Well, yeah, but the vaccine caused the fever… therefore, the vaccine caused the autism”. Then one could concievably ad any variable, capable of causing a fever, to the begining of that train of events. Would you be inclined to say Influenza causes autism?”
    Exactly what I’ve been thinking, Bones. The thing is, there is no “influenza court” where damages can be pursued, so no one seems to be considering this angle.

  7. Joseph April 25, 2008 at 15:33 #

    IF this all turns out to be true, then there will certainly be calls for better testing/identification and alternate methods for protecting these children from fever and other illnesses that might be prone to triggering the regression during the age period of vulnerability.

    Other than putting children in a bubble, I fail to see what this might involve. Oh wait, there’s a thing I’ve heard about called ‘vaccines’ or something that protect children from illnesses.

  8. bones April 25, 2008 at 16:15 #

    “The thing is, there is no “influenza court”…”

    LOL..[hysterically]…not yet Steve D, but at this point of the game nothing would suprise me.

    [sigh...]

  9. Sullivan April 25, 2008 at 17:05 #

    “Other than putting children in a bubble, I fail to see what this might involve. Oh wait, there’s a thing I’ve heard about called ‘vaccines’ or something that protect children from illnesses.”

    Yeah–and we need to include the fact that people with mitochondrial disorders, whether latent or triggered, can suffer (or die!) at all ages.

    Wouldn’t it be a strange thought if the result of this was to vaccinate earlier, though? Didn’t Shoffner mention the regression possibility being within a certain age window? What if earlier than that window is safer?

    Hannah Poling had numerous infections in her early life, but didn’t regress. What if vaccinations earlier would have been safe, and protected her from regression due to wild viruses during the proposed ‘window’?

    I really hesitate to put that out, since that is the sort of speculation that goes from “wild speculation” to “accepted fact” far to easily in the world of alternative autism theories.

    Take it more as an example of how we can speculate totally different plans of action based on the little information we have in the public right now.

  10. Kev April 25, 2008 at 21:01 #

    I also don’t think Shoffner’s comments are too much of a blow to anything here.

    Seriously?

    Shoffner notes that parents and advocates looking to impugn *vaccines as triggers for autism—or mitochondrial disease* —need direct, not just circumstantial, evidence.

    Jon Poling, says Shoffner, has been “muddying the waters” with some of his comments. “There is no precedent for that type of thinking and no data for that type of thinking,” Shoffner says.

    Now, I note that you _elect_ to believe a certain interpretation but the reality is what is quoted.

    I think you’re right about your points a,b,c and d but they bear no real relation to vaccines causing autism.

    If a vaccination occurs in someone with mito dysfunction and can be shown to likely have caused a fever during this period of vulnerability, this provides a very plausible scenario for a vaccine trigger to the autistic regression and thus a vaccine contribution to the damage done.

    Well, yeah. And? Plausible scenario to who? Certainly not Dr’s DiMaurio or Shoffner it seems.

    We’re essentially back to square one. The question at one point was: do vaccines cause autism? No science came forward to support that view.

    We’re now at: do vaccines aggravate mitochondrial dysfunction which in turn trigger autism? No science has come forward to support that view, as both Doc’s explain. Shoffner is also quite right that Poling is incorrect in his interpretation.

  11. Joseph April 25, 2008 at 22:50 #

    We’re now at: do vaccines aggravate mitochondrial dysfunction which in turn trigger autism? No science has come forward to support that view

    Or more precisely, very low level science has been presented to support this view, i.e. expert opinion and case reports.

    I think people jumped the gun on this mito thing and got all excited. It’s fairly likely they’ll end up being disappointed again (or cry foul). Plus I think HHS made have made a mistake. There are no population studies. There are basically no case-control studies. We have no idea to what extent mito markers are more common in autistic kids than non-autistic kids. Some group studies that have been discussed evidently suffer from considerable referral bias and self-selection.

  12. Schwartz April 26, 2008 at 04:02 #

    bones,

    My understanding in reading several of the VICP rulings (especially in the DTP days where encephalitis was a more common reaction) is that encephalitis resulting in seizures in young children can easily do brain damage. This continuing brain damage can result in an Autism diagnosis.

  13. Schwartz April 26, 2008 at 04:11 #

    Catherina,

    Fever is indeed a natural mechanism the body uses to help fight infection. However, there are circumstances, where a bodily reaction is not in the best interest of the patient — extremely high fevers, or quickly rising fevers being a couple examples.

    So fevers, although generally a proper response to illnesses, can be detrimental depending on the circumstances, and especially so for children with Mito dysfunction.

    Apparently (and I am repeating what I have been told as I am not an expert), in the cases where there might be mito defects, the increased heat of fever can cause the mito RNA to lose it’s shape impairing it’s function.

    “Brain cells are likely to be particularly vulnerable to mitochondrial dysfunction. This is because neurons rely heavily upon aerobic metabolism to meet their high energy demands (the brain consumes about 20% of the body’s energy). Brain cells need this energy to run their pumps that maintain ion balances critical for function and also to keep neurotransmitter levels from building up outside cells. If the energy supply is inadequate to meet the demand (due to insufficient oxygen, glucose, or mitochondrial dysfunction), normal neurotransmitter signaling systems can spiral out of control resulting in “excitotoxic” damage, which can kill nerve cells. So it is reasonable that somebody with a mitochondrial dysfunction might be able to meet normal energy demands, but suffer catastrophic brain damage during a period in development when brain activity in a particular region of the brain is particularly high.”

    “Because seizures increase the brain’s energy demands (and this may be part of the way in which they can cause damage), somebody with a brain mitochondrial dysfunction would very likely exhibit increased vulnerability to seizure induced damage.”

  14. Schwartz April 26, 2008 at 04:12 #

    Steve_D,

    When they start mandating flu illness on all children, then I would expect to see a flu court.

  15. Schwartz April 26, 2008 at 04:21 #

    Sullivan,

    “Wouldn’t it be a strange thought if the result of this was to vaccinate earlier, though? Didn’t Shoffner mention the regression possibility being within a certain age window? What if earlier than that window is safer?”

    My understanding (from my Ped) is that developing immune systems at very young ages often do not respond to certain vaccines and thus the appropriate immunity is not conveyed. But it’s certainly a thought.

    But let me ask you this. If you knew your child had a mito dysfunction and you also knew that a fever could trigger brain damage due to the mito dysfunction. Which scenario do you think has the higher probability of inducing a fever the next day:

    1) Vaccination
    2) No vaccination

  16. bones April 26, 2008 at 04:36 #

    Schwartz, you need to re-read my post, and try again.

  17. Matt April 26, 2008 at 16:59 #

    “But I have personally identified at least a dozen…”

    This is a rather strange way to write this. Mr. Kirby is not a doctor. He does not have access to all the records of kids in the Omnibus.

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “I have personally been contacted by at least a dozen…”

    And, since he is not a doctor, it would be very interesting to see how close the similarities with Ms. Poling really are. The most recent revalation (the kid who pulled out of the Omnibus) does not strike me as remarkably similar.

    Also, once again, Mr. Kirby fails to note that, logically, there are likely children like Ms. Poling who have mitochondrial diseases and autism and are clearly not vaccine injured. It only stands to reason that there are likely individuals whose “trigger” event was clearly not a vaccine.

    It is crucial to point out sooner rather than later that mitochondrial disease is not on its own evidence of vaccine injury.

  18. Schwartz April 27, 2008 at 05:53 #

    Bones,

    Regardless of how one takes the route to the symptoms of Autism, they are still autistic in addition to whatever other conditions they may suffer from.

  19. bones April 27, 2008 at 06:01 #

    Schwartz, you’re still not getting it…but I really didn’t expect you to.

  20. S.L. April 28, 2008 at 22:49 #

    Kev,

    How ever did I miss this? :) Thanks for putting the link in your reply!

    I had a smile from ear to ear reading Shoffner’s p.o.v. Having met him, and all, I really was beginning to wonder if he had changed so significantly in the last couple of years. Since all we were hearing was Poling, and they had done this study together, Shoffner had dx’d Hannah, etc. I was really unsure how Dr. S felt.

    It’s nice to read what he and the other mito “heavy hitters” have to say, and to know they are not drinking the kool-aid.

    Thanks again. I like that new share feature, going to go “share” this on my blog. I have a few “visitors” who are convinced their autistic child’s mito dysfunction is A. caused by vaccines and B. the same as Hannah Poling. Doubt this will change their minds, but what can we do except keep throwing FACTS in their faces, until the understand!

  21. Kev April 28, 2008 at 23:24 #

    @S.L.: Do you mean to tell me you don’t spend every waking moment waiting for me to publish a post??? ;)

    I’m going to drop you an email in the next day or so as I need your opinion on something. Just need a bit more info first.

  22. S.L. April 29, 2008 at 01:41 #

    Kev, my deepest apologies! It won’t happen again. ;)

    Looking forward to the email.

  23. S.L. April 29, 2008 at 01:42 #

    To Schwartz, glad you asked this question (though not directed to me, I shall answer):

    But let me ask you this. If you knew your child had a mito dysfunction and you also knew that a fever could trigger brain damage due to the mito dysfunction. Which scenario do you think has the higher probability of inducing a fever the next day:

    1) Vaccination
    2) No vaccination

    ANSWER: 1, Vaccination
    If my child had mitochondrial disease, I would realize that my child is at-risk for a multitude of diseases and illnesses. I would also be well-aware that any fever could cause problems for my child. I would prefer to avoid as many of those diseases as possible, and protect my already sick child. I would vaccinate, just as my mito doc would advise. Additionally, I would give my child fever medication for 24-48 hours following vaccination.

    A distinction does need to be made here, once again. The labels of mitochondrial disease and dysfunction are two different things. What Hannah Poling has, is not the same as what my child and many others have. Mito dysfunction is found in the general population, and not surprisingly very often found in someone with neurological issues like my child. It’s found in people with various diseases and disorders:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrion

    Other diseases not directly linked to mitochondrial enzymes may feature dysfunction of mitochondria. These include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, cardiovascular disease, retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetes mellitus.

    Fevers may affect a child with mito dysfunction a bit more than one without–for example, it wouldn’t be surprising to find mito dysfunction in a kid with seizures and developmental delays. This same child would be at risk for seizure activity during fever and illness, it may take them a bit longer to recover from a sickness as well. However, they typically are not going to have a severe regression, be hospitalized, etc. like you might see in mitochondrial disease.

    So, and this is no longer hypothetical, since my child does have mitochondrial dysfunction, yes again, I would vaccinate. My daughter is at risk for seizures while sick. She also gets runs down easier than her peers, even with a simple cold. It takes her a few extra days before she has her regular energy level (which, again, for her is below average, along with her strength and stamina). When she is sick, she typically does not eat or drink, at all. With a feeding tube, we are able to supply ample fluids and nutrition. She has been hospitalized for illnesses in the past, but thankfully as she gets older, her immune system appears to be strengthening rather well.

    My daughter has had at least 1 shot since it being determined she had these mito abnormalities, perhaps more I just don’t recall. Since I know she is at risk for seizures, that her body has to fight harder against infection, and since I have seen her hospitalized for things most kids get over in a couple of days, I very willingly vaccinate.

    I shudder to think what measles et al would do to my child. I was grateful when she ended up with a very minor case of chicken pox (unfortunately, she did have a major seizure, but was only sick for a couple of days, had she had chicken pox without a vaccine, it would have been much worse) and what could only be called a “slight” flu this winter (again, post-vax). More than likely, either of those would easily have landed her in the hospital, had she not be vaccinated and had some immunity against them.

    My daughter was first dx with developmental delay at 6 months of age, was born with 3 organ defects, and has had health issues from birth. So, again, mito dysfunction was not shocking, and it’s quite apparent to us our daughter was born with those abnormalities. Vaccines had nothing to do with it. Likewise, her “autistic features” which turned into a diagnosis of autism once genetic & mito disorders were ruled out, began early on too. So, just as I feel she was born with her set of health issues and challenges, I also feel she was always autistic. Again, no vaccine blame here.

  24. Ms. Clark April 29, 2008 at 04:51 #

    Thank you SL. I appreciate you putting that in a concise form.

    I also have a child with multiple real phsyical things (my kid was born with them) and my kid’s been in the hospital something like 15 times for minor to extreme issues (mostly surgeries). We are very fortunate that my kid has one of the world’s best immune systems. This kid’s system laughs at germs. We still get all the recommended vaccines. Apparently, vaccines are not bad for the immune system as some of the more bizarro Interet educated anitvax element say. Quite the contrary.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Left Brain/Right Brain » Blog Archive » Alexander Krakow - The Next Bombshell - April 27, 2008

    [...] DK says, there was no concession she had been made autistic by her vaccines – an opinion the medical evidence and mitochondrial experts agree with) and they recommended awarding damages uncontested. In Alexander Krakow’s case, his parents [...]

  2. Autism Blog - Poling vs HHS - Something is definitely beginning to smell | Left Brain/Right Brain - April 30, 2008

    [...] This is very much an example to me of the ‘muddying of the waters’ that John Shoffner talked about recently. [...]

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