Andrew Wakefield promoted the idea that the MMR vaccine caused autism. While his now-retracted 1997 Lancet paper is most often discussed, the strongest evidence he had actually came in later work where his team reported that they found evidence of the vaccine strain of the measles virus in the intestinal tissues of autistic children. The team used a methodology called Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR amplifies a specific fragment of DNA, allowing one to identify if small amounts of that gene are present in larger samples. PCR tests were performed by John O’Leary in Dublin. As revealed later, Andrew Wakefield had a business stake in this laboratory.
As part of the MMR litigation in the UK, the vaccine manufacturers hired Stephen Bustin to review the methods and results of the O’Leary laboratory. Those results were not made public, but Prof. Bustin later was called in to testify in the U.S. Autism Omnibus Proceeding (the vaccine court). That testimony was discussed here at LeftBrain/RightBrain and elsewhere. Prof. Bustin is one of the world’s experts on PCR.
Prof. Bustin has now written his own account of the history of the measles-virus/autism work by Mr. Wakefield’s team in Why There Is no Link Between Measles Virus and Autism. The full report is free, open access. The report discusses what he already disclosed in his testimony: the multiple failures which resulted in the reporting of a false association of measles virus and autism.
Some of those failures include:
Absence of transparency: the key publication shows no data; hence an expert reader cannot evaluate the reliability of its conclusions
Unreliable techniques and protocols: analysis of the qPCR data was incorrect
Disregard for controls: obvious evidence of extensive contamination was disregarded
Lack of reproducibility: the data could not be duplicated by several independent investigators
One key failure involved skipping key steps in using PCR on measles virus. The measles virus is an RNA virus. PCR is very inefficient at detecting RNA, so a step called reverse transcriptase is used to convert the RNA to DNA before PCR (RT-PCR). The O’Leary lab did not perform this step. This result, and others, show that the samples used by Mr. Wakefield’s team were contaminated. Prof. Bustin goes into detail and covers more important topics, and as the paper is relatively short, it is worth a read for those interested in the science.
Prof. Bustin concludes:
As a result, the conclusions put forward by this [the Wakefield/O’Leary] paper are entirely incorrect and there is no evidence whatever for the presence either of MeV genomic RNA or mRNA in the GI tracts of any of the patients investigated during the course of the studies reported by O’Leary et al. Instead, it is clear that the data support the opposite conclusion: there is no evidence for any MeV being present in the majority of patients’ analysed. Unfortunately, the authors do not report whether any the patients had received the MMR vaccination. However, assuming that a significant proportion had done so, it is also clear that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and the presence of MeV in the intestine of autistic children.
The Wakefield MMR hypothesis is already failed, so this does not really change the conversation. What this report by Prof. Bustin does is document his own observations, measurements and analyses for the historical record so we can see just how bad the science was that promoted the Wakefield hypothesis.
By Matt Carey