The Next Big Autism Bomb?

28 Mar

Over on the Huffington Post, David Kirby has posted about The Next Big Autism Bomb. Its a very long post so take a sammich.

The gist (with apologies to Mr Kirby) of it is that there was a conference call to discuss the autism/mito issues:

On Tuesday, March 11, a conference call was held between vaccine safety officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several leading experts in vaccine safety research, and executives from America’s Health Insurance Plans, (the HMO trade association) to discuss childhood mitochondrial dysfunction and its potential link to autism and vaccines.

The purpose of the call was:

“We need to find out if there is credible evidence, theoretically, to support the idea that childhood mitochondrial dysfunction might regress into autism,” one of the callers reportedly told participants.

To that end, Mr Kirby mentions four studies throughout the rest of his piece. Three are accessible but the fourth is a total mystery. This is unfortunate as it is this fourth one which the majority of his blog post relies upon for its conclusions.

The first three are discussing what the prevalence of mito _within_ autism might be. Kirby states:

CDC officials were made aware of a Portuguese study, published last October, which reported that 7.2% of children with autism had confirmed mitochondrial disorders. The authors also noted that, “a diversity of associated medical conditions was documented in 20%, with an unexpectedly high rate of mitochondrial respiratory chain disorders.”

There is a slight point of confusion to clear up here. The figure of 7.2% is from a 2005 study ‘Mitochondrial dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders: a population-based study‘.

The study (by the same author) that Kirby mentions as being published last October is ‘Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorder in Portugal: prevalence, clinical
characterization, and medical conditions
‘ declares a 4.1% figure.

The reason for this is that the lead author re-examined his data from the 2005 study and adjusted it downwards in the 2007 study. So Kirby is not correct to state that the authors believe that the rate is 7.2%. The latest figure from these authors is 4.1%.

The third study that discusses prevalence is referenced by Kirby as:

They also know that some reports estimate the rate of mitochondrial dysfunction in autism to be 20% or more. And the rate among children with the regressive sub-type of autism is likely higher still.

Kirby links to a web page that is the web interface to a mail list.

Upon searching for this paper I couldn’t find it anywhere. It is not in PubMed or Google Scholar and in fact I can only find three references to it online at all.

It since transpires that this paper is not in fact a paper at all and has not been published anywhere. It is in fact a summary for attendees of a 2003 LADDERS conference in Boston, USA. Therefore it has not been subject to any kind of peer review. That’s not to say the figure is wrong, merely that it hasn’t been verified or undergone any kind of the usual scientific checks and balances a published piece of work must undertake to ensure quality.

Its also been explained to me that the percentage of “mitochondrial autism” reported by any group will vary with the percentage of regressive autism in their ASD population. So it is not true that the summary states a differential between autism and regressive autism. Rather that “mitochondrial autism” exists _within_ regressive autism.

And so we move on to the fourth study.

One doctor reported his findings from a five-year study of children with autism, who also showed clinical markers for impaired cellular energy, due to mild dysfunction of their mitochondria.

The biochemistry of 30 children was studied intensively, and in each case, the results showed the same abnormalities as those found in Hannah Poling, participants said. Each child had moderate elevations or imbalances in the exact same amino acids and liver enzymes as Hannah Poling.

All thirty children also displayed normal, healthy development until about 18-24 months of age, when they quickly regressed into clinically diagnosed autism (and not merely “features of autism”), following some type of unusual trigger, or stress, placed on their immune system.


But what causes the stress? That is a very big question.

Apparently, in only two of the 30 cases, or 6%, could the regression be traced directly and temporally to immunizations, and one of them was Hannah Poling. In the other cases, there was reportedly some type of documented, fever-inducing viral infection that occurred within seven days of the onset of brain injury symptoms.

Mr Kirby makes this study the raison d’etre of the rest of his post.

I have some major concerns about this. Who is this doctor? What is this study? Where is it published? Where can we _read for ourselves_ what this study says? Without wishing to question the honesty with which Mr Kirby is posting, its obvious that – even in this post as I discuss above – errors and misinterpretations have crept in.

Lets be honest here. These are some *major* claims being made. Firstly that all 30 kids in the study regressed into clinically diagnosed autism as opposed to features of autism. All 30? That’s incredible.

Secondly that 6% of the regressions into clinically diagnosed autism are traced directly from immunisations. That’s big. That is about as big as it gets. I would really like to see this study.

I have asked (twice) in the comments section of Mr Kirby’s post to be pointed to this study. So far, no answer has been forthcoming from anybody.

However. I note that Mr Kirby states that one of the 6% is Hannah Poling. If this is so then it is not true to say that:

the…[autistic]…regression…[can]… be traced directly and temporally to immunizations

(insertions mine for clarity).

As I’ve discussed before, none of the listed symptoms attributed to immunisations can accumulate to a diagnosis of autism. So unless we can actually see this study, know who the author, see what checks and balances this paper has undergone, we’re in a bit of a limbo.

5 Responses to “The Next Big Autism Bomb?”

  1. Lenora March 28, 2008 at 18:32 #

    Kev, have you tried contacting Dr. Kelley about the paper Kirby keeps referring to? It seems to be where he gets the 20% number, and I think it would be interesting to hear what Kelley has to say about Kirby using that number.

  2. Kev March 28, 2008 at 21:50 #

    I think Dr Kelley would feel he wouldn’t really want to comment publicly 🙂

  3. Fil Navarra March 28, 2008 at 22:29 #

    This mito disorder makes sense to me.
    Most of the children that have responded to a therapy has been through the DAN protocal that uses MethyB12 and HypoBaric Oxygen Chambers and other things which tend to bypass the mitocondrial pathways.
    My problem has always been in reasoning why more boys than girls are affected. Do male cells use more energy?

  4. Matt March 28, 2008 at 23:01 #

    Fil Navarra,

    if you check the website, you will see a comment where one doctor specifically tells people that HBOT has potentially harmful effects.

    While some alternative, non-Western medicine treatment approaches are worth a try, there have been a few that are harmful, including IV chelation, hyperbaric oxygen, and ‘silver water.’

    Also, the fraction if autistics with mitochondrial issues is small–too small to have such a large impact on the male:female ratio.

  5. Prometheus April 1, 2008 at 23:11 #

    One of the biggest “stresses” that mitochondria (dysfunctional or not) have to deal with is the production of reactive oxygen species (e.g. superoxide, hdrogen peroxide, etc.) from their own metabolic processes.

    Increasing the amount of oxygen in any fashion (such as HBOT) will increase the production of reactive oxygen species and therefore increase the stress on the mitochondria.

    I would say that HBOT would be more of a “challenge test” for mitochondrial dysfunction than a treatment.

    As for attempting to “…bypass the mitochondrial pathways…”, I’d love to hear the treatments that are supposed to do that, along with the “pathways” that are supposedly “bypassed”.


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