From IMFAR to Poland: how a monkey study can totally change

16 Jul

I just blogged about a new paper “proving” once again that vaccines cause autism. This is a paper from Mr. Wakefield’s team. Thanks to a link provided by KWombles of the Countering Age of Autism blog, we can compare the current paper to what the authors claimed two years ago.

Here is the new paper (published in a journal from Poland):
Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants: A pilot study

by Hewitson L. Lopresti B, Stott C, Mason N.S., Tomko.

Here is the abstract from IMFAR in 2008:

Pediatric Vaccines Influence Primate Behavior, and Amygdala Growth and Opioid Ligand Binding

L. Hewitson , Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
B. Lopresti , Radiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
C. Stott , Thoughtful House Center for Children, Austin, TX
J. Tomko , Pittsburgh Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
L. Houser , Pittsburgh Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
E. Klein , Division of Laboratory Animal Resources, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
C. Castro , Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
G. Sackett , Psychology, Washington National Primate Research Center, Seattle, WA
S. Gupta , Medicine, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, University of California – Irvine, Irvine, CA
D. Atwood , Chemistry, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
L. Blue , Chemistry, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
E. R. White , Chemistry, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
A. Wakefield , Thoughtful House Center for Children, Austin, TX

Background: Macaques are commonly used in pre-clinical vaccine safety testing, but the combined childhood vaccine regimen, rather than individual vaccines, has not been studied. Childhood vaccines are a possible causal factor in autism, and abnormal behaviors and anomalous amygdala growth are potentially inter-related features of this condition.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to compare early infant cognition and behavior with amygdala size and opioid binding in rhesus macaques receiving the recommended childhood vaccines (1994-1999), the majority of which contained the bactericidal preservative ethylmercurithiosalicylic acid (thimerosal).

Methods: Macaques were administered the recommended infant vaccines, adjusted for age and thimerosal dose (exposed; N=13), or saline (unexposed; N=3). Primate development, cognition and social behavior were assessed for both vaccinated and unvaccinated infants using standardized tests developed at the Washington National Primate Research Center. Amygdala growth and binding were measured serially by MRI and by the binding of the non-selective opioid antagonist [11C]diprenorphine, measured by PET, respectively, before (T1) and after (T2) the administration of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR).

Results: Compared with unexposed animals, significant neurodevelopmental deficits were evident for exposed animals in survival reflexes, tests of color discrimination and reversal, and learning sets. Differences in behaviors were observed between exposed and unexposed animals and within the exposed group before and after MMR vaccination. Compared with unexposed animals, exposed animals showed attenuation of amygdala growth and differences in the amygdala binding of [11C]diprenorphine. Interaction models identified significant associations between specific aberrant social and non-social behaviors, isotope binding, and vaccine exposure.

Conclusions: This animal model, which examines for the first time, behavioral, functional, and neuromorphometric consequences of the childhood vaccine regimen, mimics certain neurological abnormalities of autism. The findings raise important safety issues while providing a potential model for examining aspects of causation and disease pathogenesis in acquired disorders of behavior and development.

Emphasis added by me.

Why? First, to point out the change in the author list. Of 13 authors on the original abstract, only 4 remain. One can speculate as to why the others were dropped (or pulled their names) from the author list.

A new author was added, N.S. Mason.

How about other changes? Well, 2 years ago they had data on 13 vaccinated monkeys. Now it is only 9. Two years ago they had data on 3 controls. Now it is only 2.

What happened?

OK, while you are working that one out, here’s the big one. Two years ago the vaccinated monkeys “showed attenuation of amygdala growth”

Now, the amygdalas are larger in the vaccinated monkeys. What? Yep. Before they had “attenuated growth” and now they are growing faster than the unvaccinated animals?

7 Responses to “From IMFAR to Poland: how a monkey study can totally change”

  1. KWombles July 16, 2010 at 02:12 #

    As Emily pointed out at Countering, she covered it back in July 2008,

    Blaxill obviously knew about it and knew it wasn’t knew since the abstract is posted on Safeminds here: (a link Emily provides in her article).

    So, AoA passes off as new something two years old, something written up differently, and something that they had to go all the way to Poland to get published. Fascinating.

  2. KWombles July 16, 2010 at 02:21 #

    AoA covered it May 16, 2008:

    Can’t get any newer than that, can you?

  3. Joseph July 16, 2010 at 02:27 #

    That’s just bad.

    To be cynical, what probably happened is that they looked at the data, and noticed that if they dropped one monkey from the control group, they would be able to claim some statistically significant results. Essentially, I’m thinking this is a case of extreme and blatant cherry-picking of cases, controls, and outcome measures.

    It’s quite possible the remaining authors dropped out once they noticed how the paper was “evolving.” Or maybe they dropped out because of the Wakefield fiasco.

  4. brian July 16, 2010 at 02:34 #

    Many studies have demonstrated that children with ASD follow different trajectories for the growth of particular brain regions and overall brain growth than do typically-developing children. Vaccine uptake studies suggest that the great majority of the children in the typically-developing control groups for such growth studies were almost certainly vaccinated. This Hewistson study thus suggests that vaccinated macaques simply do not develop like vaccinated human infants, so perhaps the authors chose a poor model.

    There’s a simpler explanation for the problems in this study, though: an inadequate control group. The control group included only three animals (one of the original four was withdrawn); complete data for volumetric comparisons were available from only two animals. Since the conclusions are based on volumetric comparison, it’s unfortunate that these animals could vary by up to one month of age and in weight by about 100% (1-2 kg) when first evaluated at “approximately 4 months” of age, since age and size would clearly influence the volume of the structures evaluated: A three and a half month-old, 1 kg male macaque is quite likely to have a much smaller brain than a four and a half month-old, 2 kg male macaque.

    There’s no reason to believe that the members of an experimental group of nine animals should be similar in age, size, or weight to the two members of the control group. The fact that there is no information in the paper regarding this crucial point makes the paper rather meaningless.

  5. David N. Brown July 16, 2010 at 05:35 #

    I suspect that one of my Balkans jokes applies pretty well to Poland: “Nobody pays attention to it until all hell breaks loose.” The principle could certainly apply to this either unsuspecting or cynical little journal.

  6. RPClarke July 21, 2010 at 21:49 #

    Thanks for saving me the bother of reading that paper more carefully. I had already noted that they fed in the vaccines at four times the human rate, which surely must call into question the comparability anyway, let alone that autism was not recorded as resulting.

    But I wouldn’t be so sneering towards or hard against this “unsuspecting or cynical little journal”. Compare the pathetic drivel non-result churned out by Nature last month to a huge hype-fanfare of misleadingness (as explained in my comment below the article itself).

    That Macaques paper was in the context of a dozenish others there as an autism special issue, which was clearly intended to present a panorama of views, including the anti-vaccination paper by Schultz. While I agree with Schultz re vaccines, he makes a whopping error of logic on p192; any inaccuracy of amalgam measurements would cause the result to be less rather than more significant. Did you experts here point that out too? Did you also mention the acccompanying paper “Sorting out the spinning of autism” by DeSoto, which mentioned how she’d received threats after showing the fundamental conclusion-reversing error in Ip et al.? You couldn’t possibly be, oohh,… biased?


  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - From IMFAR to Poland: how a monkey study can totally change « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - July 16, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kim Wombles, inpoland. inpoland said: From IMFAR to Poland: how a monkey study can totally change. I just blogged about a new paper “proving” once again… […]

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