New mercury/autism paper to misrepresent

22 Feb

A new study on autism and mercury has been published:

Autism is a highly heritable disorder, however, there is mounting evidence to suggest that toxicant-induced oxidative stress may play a role. The focus of this article will be to review our animal model of autism and discuss our evidence that oxidative stress may be a common underlying mechanism of neurodevelopmental damage. We have shown that mice exposed to either methylmercury (MeHg) or valproic acid (VPA) in early postnatal life display aberrant social, cognitive and motor behavior.

Some people have reported on this study thusly:

New Study Implicates Mercury In The Development Of Autism

Um, right.

These same people, well known for their anti-vaccine beliefs, fail to note anywhere that this study says:

…., it is important to note that autism was not found to be associated with either pre- or neonatal exposure to organic mercury.

One form of organic mercury being, of course, thiomersal.

Might it be very uncharitable of me to suggest that this was a deliberate obfuscation? I guess it might but I still think it was. Especially when this same person says:

….will they all continue to proffer the lie that there is no convincing evidence linking vaccines to autism, while ignoring all the studies that are piling up on the hard drives of parents across the country?

Hmmm, so this study quite categorically states there is no link between organic mercury and autism and yet this person calls others liars? Projection is a terrible thing.

There will be more to say on the quality of this study – especially its references – but I wanted to get this clear as soon as possible.

27 Responses to “New mercury/autism paper to misrepresent”

  1. mayfly February 22, 2008 at 20:00 #

    his is not a study of mercury and autism. It s a study of valproic acid, a vitamin E derivative, and mice which don’t know which way is up. It references a earlier study, footnote 8 extensibly which did deal with MeHg. I don’t have access to that article.
    The present article is published in the American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology. Looking at the American Journals available, I wonder what are their standards. There are many serious titles, but also The American Journal of Acupucture, The American Journal of Art Therapy, The American Journal of Homeopathy and more. Having such company does not speak well for the present journal. The last statement is guilt by association. Is the journal peer reviewed?

    The article deals with “normal” white laboratory mice. Unless I overlooked something the mice do not have a genetic defect which makes oxidative stress more problematic. The mice are administered valproic acid. There is no reporting of autistic behaviors, though again an earlier paper purportedly showing that was referenced. There was some hyperactivity exhibited by the mice administered valproic acid, but that was insignificant.

    I’ll leave it to others to discuss the methods. I lack the knowlege to do so. But I wonder, “What the heck does te study have to do with austism or mercury, or their non-existent nexus?”

  2. isles February 22, 2008 at 20:20 #

    Mayfly, I don’t know for sure, but I’m not sure I would assume that all the publications whose names start with “American Journal of…” are related.

    Whether that is true or not, this particular article has a couple of highly credulous features which I am sure Kev will be highlighting shortly!

  3. Brian February 22, 2008 at 21:06 #

    “American Journal of…” doesn’t of itself mean anything, IMO. We could start the “American Journal of Left/Right Brain Analysis” if we felt like it.

    Indeed, scamsters often pick names that either sound like they’re prestigious – such as the “Journal of the American Physicians and Surgeons”, which is a right-wing extremist rag, named specifically to confuse people into thinking it’s credible – or that sound like a reputable journal, such as the International Journal of Clinical Investigation, which sounds like the authoritative Journal of Clinical Investigation, but is, in fact, another bunch of fruitcakes.

    In my experience, a lot of scientific publishing is about as reliable as the average US supermarket tabloid. Certainly a lot less reliable than a UK tabloid, such as The Sun.

    This one, however, I don’t know, and thimerosal is not really my thing.

  4. Schwartz February 23, 2008 at 04:52 #

    Kev,

    As noted above, this particular study has nothing to do with mercury exposure. The quote you pulled is referring to a study they referenced which found correlations between Methyl Mercury and neurological problems, but not Autism as stated.

    “Myers, G.J. and P.W. Davidson, 2000. Does methylmercury have a role in causing developmental disabilities in children? environ. Health Per., 108: 413-420.”

    Apparently, on of these authors’ previous studies looked at Mercury. This one specifically researches oxidative stress and it’s effect on motor and behavioural skills in mice. A good portion of the study discusses the their animal experimentation model that can be used to test different variables and their potential effect on Autism.

    They also investigate the effect of Vitamin E on the deliterious effects of VPA. Those results are also interesting.

    For those that are interested:

    “Science Publications American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology (AJBB) is an international peer reviewed/refereed journal. It keeps research worker and community up-to-date with all new developments in life sciences.”

  5. Is I? February 23, 2008 at 07:51 #

    Schwartz,

    nice blurb on the journal, but it doesn’t tell me much. It appears to not be listed by ISI and not have an impact factor, making it difficult to state how high quality the journal is.

  6. Kev February 23, 2008 at 11:53 #

    Schwarz – you (and mayfly) are absolutely correct – but that was not the point of me quoting that piece from this paper.

    Ask yourself _why_ the authors of this paper elected to quote that paper *making it clear ethyl mercury is not involved in the aetiology of autism* .

    Its because it justified their decision to use Methyl rather than Ethyl. It justified it because the scientific community at large are well aware that ethyl mercury – thiomersal – plays no part in autism.

  7. Catherina February 23, 2008 at 11:54 #

    The journal is a new (2005) Open Access journal – therefore it won’t have an impact factor until December of this year, as far as I can see.

  8. Schwartz February 23, 2008 at 17:53 #

    Kev,

    I wouldn’t quite agree with your interpretation on 2 counts:

    1) They never stated that Ethyl Mercury played no part in the etiology of Autism. They stated that there was no evidence that Ehtyl Mercury played no part in the etiology of Autism. There is a big difference.

    “Since the etiology of Autism is unknown…”

    “Nonetheless, it is important to note that autism was not found to be associated with either pre- or neonatal exposure to organic mercury.”

    You are certainly overstating their quotes.

    2) I think that their choice to study Methyl Mercury’s vs Ethyl Mercury’s was far more likely driven by the considerations they specifically listed, not the one you’re proposing.

    a) MeHg is “a widely distributed environmental toxicant”. Ethyl mercury exposure has varied largely, and hopefully will be eliminated in the future. MeHg is here to stay for a long time.

    b) The pharmacokinetics of MeHg are somewhat understood and decently studied (i.e. it crosses the placenta barrier etc)

    c) It is known to be associated with neurological problems

    d) The mechansisms by which it causes problems is thought to be related to oxidative stress which was a key study topic

    It also makes logical political sense to choose MeHg because it is better understood and thus a better compound to investigate the effect of ROS.

    A good reason to choose MeHg over Ethyl Mercury is that the main exposure to Ethyl Mercury is through vaccines, and the study purpose was not to investigate vaccines and autism. This was a wise political decision IMO given what they were trying to study.

    Even had they wanted to study Ethyl Mercury, I think it is highly unlikely that their sponsor would have supported the decision given that it is clear that Autism Speaks wants to avoid any vaccine/autism controversy if possible. I’m not passing judgement here, just stating observations.

    I think it would be interesting to use their mouse model to test other compounds as well including Ethyl Mercury but I can’t fault them for choosing to test what they did.

    I personally thought the most interesting results was the model they had created to test compounds and their potential association to Autism, the apparent large impact of VPD, and the potential protective action of vitamin E.

  9. Sue Pechacek February 23, 2008 at 20:23 #

    Very interesting. While pregnant with my autistic son I was on valproic acid for my seizure disorder. Few articles mention anything about one having anything to do with the other.

  10. JOr DAN! February 23, 2008 at 20:28 #

    Schwartz,

    “I personally thought the most interesting results was the model they had created to test compounds and their potential association to Autism, the apparent large impact of VPD, and the potential protective action of vitamin E.”

    These are **mice**. But what parents of the sort you seem to admire (and curry favor of) read this they say
    “Oh, this means vaccines caused my kid’s autism and I better start feeding my kid thousands of I.U.s of vitamin E ASAP” With no regard for how harmful that could be. Because they and their DAN! fools treat their kids like lab rats, with your supercilious blessing, from what I can see.

  11. notmercury February 23, 2008 at 21:37 #

    Sorry, try this one:
    http://journals.cambridge.org/production/action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=69022

  12. Schwartz February 24, 2008 at 08:59 #

    JOr DAN!,

    “These are mice.”

    I believe I said that. Did you forget that animal testing is part of most pharmceutical testing? If it gives useless information, why do you think everyone does it?

    “But what parents of the sort you seem to admire (and curry favor of) read this they say “Oh, this means vaccines caused my kid’s autism and I better start feeding my kid thousands of I.U.s of vitamin E ASAP” ”

    Actually, if you read the study, the vitamin E was applied before the toxicants, not after.

    As of these fictitious parents, I don’t know who you’re speaking of since I only know a handful of parents of Autistic children personally, and all of them are quite capable of making logical scientific judgements. Their judgements and arguments display a lot more logic and thought than that post of yours.

    You seem to want to treat everyone like children. Perhaps, we should hide the details and just spoon feed everyone what we interpret to be the truth. Give me a break.

    “With no regard for how harmful that could be. Because they and their DAN! fools treat their kids like lab rats, with your supercilious blessing, from what I can see.”

    You can make all the broad brush generalized statements in the world and they will remain pointless and illogical forever. Try a logical argument for a change, then it might be worth having a discussion with you.

  13. Kev February 24, 2008 at 09:14 #

    Schwarz why do you do this?

    Every time you come on here you make arguments that simply aren’t in the original discussion. Why?

    _”They never stated that Ethyl Mercury played no part in the etiology of Autism. They stated that there was no evidence that Ehtyl Mercury played no part in the etiology of Autism. There is a big difference.”_

    Scientifically speaking there is no difference at all. You can interpret their statement as being a big difference – thats your right – but I’m afraid there’s no appreciable difference at all….unless they or you have some science to demonstrate this ‘big difference’?

    I haven’t checked the thread for awhile, but did you get around to answering my question regarding your opinion as to why Wakefield refused to give Afzal samples or participate in the Afzal study?

  14. Brian February 24, 2008 at 09:43 #

    Sorry, Kev, but IMO Schwarz is correct in his caution. There’s a huge difference between the two statements. Lack of evidence of any link between thimerosal and autism isn’t the same thing as saying there is no link.

    Whoever came up with the Loch Ness monster analogy on this site (apologies for forgetting) made the point a different way. There’s nothing you can do to prove the nonexistence of the monster. You can only demonstrate to the nth degree that there’s no evidence that it exists.

    Having said that, it must surely be more likely that there is a thimerosal-damaged person out there than there is a monster in Loch Ness.

    It doesn’t need science to demonstrate this point. It’s logic.

  15. Kev February 24, 2008 at 10:07 #

    You’re right. Apologies Schwarz.

  16. Ginger Taylor February 25, 2008 at 23:18 #

    Kevin,

    Your statement, “this study quite categorically states there is no link between organic mercury and autism” is incorrect.

    The quote that you pulled from the paper says that,

    “it is important to note that autism was not found to be associated with either PRE- OR NEONATAL exposure to organic mercury.”

    That means before or during birth. This statement does not cover POSTNATAL exposure, following birth, which is what is being studied in these mice, and is also when children would receive most mercury containing vaccines.

    “This focus of this article will be to review our animal model of autism and discuss our evidence that oxidative stress may be a common underlying mechanism of neurodevelopmental damage. We have shown that mice exposed to either methylmercury (MeHg) or valproic acid (VPA) in early POSTNATAL life display aberrant social, cognitive and motor behavior.

  17. NEO February 25, 2008 at 23:47 #

    I don’t think the mice were exposed to mercury during birth, Ginger.

    (Actually, none of the mice in this study were exposed to mercury at all.)

  18. No-ey February 25, 2008 at 23:55 #

    http://www.answers.com/neonatal&r=67

    Ginger, there you go making up stuff again. Neonatal does not mean “during birth.” You really have a college degree? Hard to believe.

  19. Kev February 26, 2008 at 00:00 #

    Ginger,

    Firstly, even though you have made it clear I am not welcome at your blog you continue to post at mine? Do they teach manners in Maine?

    Secondly, I never claimed other than what you are stating. I do believe that you and your comrades frequently moan about RhoGAM? Which is administered before (that means PRE) birth. Also you frequently whine on about teeth and filings.

    Please don’t bother replying. You have nothing of interest to say.

  20. Schwartz February 26, 2008 at 06:49 #

    Kev,

    I did answer the Azfal question. I think I listed 3 plausible reasons that I can think of (obviously I’m guessing):

    1) He knew his results were incorrect
    2) He didn’t trust Azfal to do the correct science or he didn’t trust them to publish the results regardless of the outcome
    3) He was advised by his lawyers given the extensive legal work going on in the UK to not hand anything over

    I find any of those reasons plausible. I am personally skeptical of any PCR results at this point.

  21. HN February 26, 2008 at 07:58 #

    Schwartz said ” Funny how one of my kids has had a small number of vaccinations. Somehow that makes me anti-vaccine.”

    Is that your autistic child?

    Just curious. My disabled child had seizures prior to any vaccinations. The history of seizures prevented him from getting the pertussis vaccine. Which happened to be at a time our county was having a pertussis epidemic, aided by the anti-vac contingent. (though his last and more dramatic seizure was when he was a bit over a year old… it was while he was dehydrated during a nasty gastrointestinal episode, which may have been prevented with the newer rotavirus vaccine)

    So which vaccine do you think turned your kid autistic? The one with thimerosal (which has been historically lower in the Health Canada schedule), or the MMR (which has been in use in the USA since 1971, and in Canada not that long after)?

    Would you not favor more funds to go towards educational supports to autistic children? If not, why?

  22. Schwartz February 27, 2008 at 02:52 #

    HN,

    None of my children are autistic. Consequently, I don’t think vaccines caused any specific damage to my children. I know of several children (one in my daughters’ former daycare) that had a severe reaction to DTaPHiB vaccine. She required hospitalization after the shot, and subsequently had recurring seizures, but was not exhibiting the traits of Autism at the time. Both of her parents are medical doctors. I believe they decided against further vaccination, though I’m not sure. A colleague of mine has an Autistic son (he is a high functioning child) and I don’t think it was associated with any vaccinations.

    I had already decided long before these experiences to delay all of the vaccinations for our children, and skip a number of them altogether based on my lack of confidence in the safety testing — not specific to Autism.

    I fully support public funds to support special education needs for Autistic children. I am against the Ontario government policy (the government is fighting Autism parents in court) of refusing to assist Autistic parents after their children reach the age of 6. I think one side benefit of full funding, is that the government would have much more incentive to fund research into causes and treatments for Autism.

    Government funding for special education needs was gutted in the early 2000’s. This government has started to restore some of the services, but they have not fixed the fundamental school board funding formula problems, so special education needs children get the short end of the stick. I highly value free public education, and fully support programs for children with special needs as it is pretty clear to me, that these have a lot of value.

  23. HN February 27, 2008 at 05:17 #

    So you have a sample of 1. Okay. Just a reminder that the plural of anecdote is not data.

    By the way, my son is not autistic. More accurately he was not diagnosed with that label when he was 3, before the DSM was changed (a high school counselor before he graduated thought he might be diagnosed as such now). He is presently 19 years old, and in community college with disability services.

    He did have seizures due to a now vaccine preventable disease (Grand Mal, loss of consciousness, trip to hospital by ambulance, etc). His neurological problems may actually be from an actual disease (and he was not vaccinated for pertussis because of neonatal seizures). Since my son was further disease injured when he was barely one year old, you will have to argue very very hard to convince me that the vaccines are more dangerous than the actual diseases, or that delaying vaccines for baby killing/disabling diseases like pertussis, tetanus, Hib and others is a good thing.

    Also, with all the attention to autism these days, programs that benefited my son are now being reduced to create more self-contained classes for high functioning autistic children.

    Personally, I think that the other disabled kids should not be forgotten, and that disabilities from the diseases should be prevented. I agree with these folks:
    http://www.pkids.org/

    So where is the evidence that the DTaP vaccine is more dangerous than diphtheria, tetnanus and pertussis? Where is the evidence that the Hib vaccine is more dangerous than Hib? (my younger son was the first to get that vaccine, and I know of one mom whose first child died from that, and I know of other kids whose disabilities stemmed from actually getting the disease… so I don’t think I’ll acknowledge any of your goal shifting and other tactics to bend the data).

  24. HN February 27, 2008 at 06:04 #

    Just a reminder: Due to my age, and my children being born before several vaccines were introduced, my sample of disease injured children is much larger than your sample of 1 child with a bad experience with a vaccine.

    But my multiple examples of kids being injured due to congenital rubella syndrome (next door neighbor), the Hib kids, and others… they are still anecdotes, and the plural is not data. I like to rely on actual science. Like this paper:
    http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/160/3/302

    and if you don’t think disease acquired neural disabilities are much, there are the death lists of selected diseases:

    Click to access cases&deaths.pdf

  25. Nathan April 16, 2008 at 16:44 #

    To whom it may concern,
    Most of your discussion comes from peer-reviewed journals. If you do not know the system you should familiarize yourself with it before you speak about it. Although it is not a perfect system it is the best that science can to date offer. Most of what is published is not for public use, it is to spread information and ideas to other scientist, to improve the quality of research. As for methylmercury, it is a very well documented neurotoxin that has developmental effects. As for whether or not it is a factor in autism is yet to be determined. My best advice would be to eat fish, since they are a very health part of our diet, but be careful to eat fish that are high in essential fatty acids and low in methylmercury content.

  26. Joseph April 16, 2008 at 17:28 #

    This paper is pretty confusing. I don’t see any indication that they did anything with MeHg in this study. It sounds as if that’s something they did in a previous study. They definitely did something with Valproic acid and Vitamin E. Did anybody else have a different reading?

    The prior study is apparently

    Cheh, M.A., A.K. Halladay, K.R. Reuhl,
    M. Polunas, X. Ming and G.C. Wagner, 2007.
    Trolox, a Vitamin E derivative, protects against persistent neurobehavioral disruption induced by neonatal methylmercury exposure. Soc. Toxicol., NC.

    It would be interesting to see the findings of that one, what kind of dose they used, and so forth.

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