Oldstone letter in the Omnibus docket

25 Mar

When I found that the Autism Omnibus Proceeding expert reports were public, the first one that caught my eye was by Andrew Zimmerman. Obviously, it caught Kev’s attention too 🙂

But, I have only a brief time available today, so I will start with this letter by Dr. Michael Oldstone. It is brief enough that I have copied the body in its entirety below.

To summarize, Rick Rollens asked Dr. Oldstone to consider collaborating with Dr. O’Leary and Dr. Wakefield on the Autism/MMR question. It was a good move on Mr. Rollens’ part, as Dr. Odlstone is one of the preeminent researchers in viral pathogenesis. Has been for decades.

Before agreeing to collaborate, Dr. Oldstone wanted to check on the quality of the results coming out of the O’Leary laboratory. Dr. Oldstone sent tissue samples to Dr. O’Leary’s laboratory, some with measles virus, some without. Dr. O’Leary tested them–and got the wrong answer 20% of the time. Dr. Oldstone sent another batch of samples, some duplicates from the first batch. Not only did Dr. O’Leary’s laboratory get 20% wrong again but, in Dr. Oldstone’s words:

Most troublesome, some samples, when tested twice under different code numbers ‘switched’ from positive to negative or from negative to positive. On this basis of inaccuracies of their PCR test, I declined from further working with either Drs. Wakefield or O’Leary.

This goes directly towards the question of the quality of the data coming from Dr. O’Leary’s laboratory. This is a big question. The Hornig study came out last year, an attempt to replicate Dr. Wakefield’s research. In one of the strangest moves I have ever seen by a researcher, Dr. Wakefield claimed that this study actually supported his research by demonstrating that Dr. O’Leary’s lab is capable of making accurate PCR measurements. Dr. Wakefield neglected the obvious point–being accurate today doesn’t mean one was accurate yesterday. He also neglected the suggestion (made by Dr. O’Leary himself at the press conference for the Hornig study) that Dr. Wakefield’s samples could have been contaminated.

Well, here is a good example that Dr. O’Leary’s laboratory was not making accurate measurements. This was iin the “early 2000’s”. Note that the Uhlman paper (Dr. Wakefield’s team’s paper supposedly finding measles virus in gut tissue) came out in 2002–the same time period.

Below is the letter, dated Oct. 12, 2007, from Dr. Oldstone to Dr. Brian Ward.

Dear Dr. Ward:

I recently became aware that my work in the field of viral persistence is being quoted in support of the hypothesis that the measles virus component of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is supposedly associated with the development of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

Measles virus has been a focus of my laboratory for many years so this autismlmeasles link has been of interest to me. Further, I should state up front that I see at present no evidence whatsoever for such a link.

In the early 2000s I was asked by Rick Rollens to consider a collaborative grant between my laboratory and that of Drs. Wakefield and O’Leary. Prior to making a decision, I decided to assess the performance of Dr. O’Leary’s PCR-based assays targeting measles virus. My laboratory generated samples from tissue culture cells infected with MV as well as tissue samples from our transgenic mouse model of MV infection (including gut and brain tissues), which were coded and sent to the O’Leary laboratory. Samples had varying titers of measles virus as well as appropriate negative control and measles virus positive samples. The arrangement was informal in that the samples were only sent to Dr. O’Leary for testing. After receiving Dr. O’Leary’s results, the code was broken and I discovered that approximately 20% of the samples were incorrect as to the
presence or absence of measles virus. I reviewed the results with Dr. O’Leary as well as his protocols for preparing his assay, which I found to be sound and decided that perhaps there may have been some unknown error and a second set of samples should be sent. This second set was again coded anew and contained both new samples and several original samples. The results of the second round were no better with again approximately 20% of the samples misidentified by Dr. O’Leary’s laboratory. Most troublesome, some samples, when tested twice under different code numbers ‘switched’ from positive to negative or from negative to positive. On this basis of inaccuracies of their PCR test, I declined from further working with either Drs. Wakefield or O’Leary.

Michael B.A. Oldstone, M.D.
Head, Viral-lmmunobiology Laboratory

5 Responses to “Oldstone letter in the Omnibus docket”

  1. Kev March 25, 2009 at 08:05 #

    Yeah but its the Judge Eady letters that _really_ matter. If you’re desperate to move attention away from the contamination and bad process in the O’Leary lab of course.

  2. Joseph March 25, 2009 at 14:12 #

    You mean the O’Leary lab did better than random chance or guessing? I’m a little shocked.

  3. Brian Deer March 25, 2009 at 15:17 #

    In June 2002, after another senior academic had refered to the Oldstone-O’Leary matter during the farcical Burton hearings, this is what Wakefield said:

    “I would like to put the record straight with respect to Dr. Gershon’s testimony last year on the molecular detection of measles virus in the laboratory of Professor O’Leary. Dr. Gershon’s was false in relation to a number of assertions, whether or not his testimony constituted perjury or simply sloppy science. It is not my wish to take up valuable time in this hearing with the details of Dr. Gershon’s unacceptable errors or correspondence relating to this. All raw data have been provided to both the ranking
    majority and minority members. Merely by way of illustration, he stated that tissues from experimental animals and others infected with measles virus were positive in Professor O’Leary’s lab. In fact, they were all entirely and consistently negative on repeat testing in blinded studies. Scientifically, Dr. Gershon’s behavior was a disgrace and I stand by that. I would level the same charge at anyone who relies on or has relied on in any way upon his testimony. The disgrace is that he did not check the raw data before impugning the reputation of a fellow scientist before the eyes of the world.”

    In other words, someone who had honestly told the committee that Oldstone had withdrawn cooperation with Wakefield and O’Leary after finding contamination in blinded samples, was subjected to abusive allegations of “perjury” from Wakefield. Wakefield went on to attack Gershon’s wife, alleging she had a conflict of interest over a chickenpox vaccine patent (she didn’t, but he had one over a measles vaccine patent).

    I actually asked Oldstone about this, years back, and he confirmed Gershon’s account.

    BTW, Sullivan, where did O’Leary talk about Wakefield’s samples being contaminated? You mention a press conference. Is there are record?

  4. Sullivan March 25, 2009 at 18:39 #

    Mr. Deer,

    the audio from the newsconference can be found here


    Kev discussed thsi in a blog post,

    O’Leary doesn’t state that he knows the Wakefield samples were contaminated. As I recall, he gives that as a strong possiblity of why the samples gave false positives.


  1. blog-thing : In the blogosphere - May 29, 2009

    […] Of course, the big news in America has been the verdict in the vaccine court that there is no connection between MMR and autism. There is very little neutral ground on this issue. Those who believe that vaccines do cause autism will find support for their views on the Age of Autism If, like me you discount any connection between vaccines and autism, you will prefer Left Brain Right Brain. […]

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