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No, Wakefield’s Autistic Enterocolitis Does Not Exist

2 Sep

Listen to Andrew Wakefield talk for a while and he will tell you his work has been replicated. Usually claiming replicated multiple times and around the world. Since he says it, it gets repeated by his supporters in online discussions.

For those who get dragged into those discussions, here is another paper to reference. This one takes on the idea that there is a bowel disease specific to autism. Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis”

People have looked and, guess what, it isn’t there. Yes, autistics get bowel disease. Being autistic doesn’t prevent bowel disease. The fact that some do, indeed, get bowel disease isn’t what Wakefield claimed. He claimed a “new syndrome”.

It doesn’t exist.

Here’s the abstract. The group is reputable and, in fact, has expressed sympathetic views towards Wakefield.

Evaluation of Intestinal Function in Children With Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms.

Alterations in intestinal function, often characterized as a “leaky gut,” have been attributed to children who are on the autism spectrum. Disaccharidase activity, intestinal inflammation, and permeability were analyzed in 61 children with autism and 50 nonautistic individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms.

All patients had duodenal biopsies assayed for lactase, sucrase, maltase, and palatinase activity. Intestinal permeability was evaluated by rhamnose/lactulose test and measured by high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Intestinal inflammation was evaluated by fecal calprotectin and lactoferrin levels using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and histology.

Some children with autism had mild levels of mucosal inflammation on intestinal biopsy. Disaccharidase activity was not different in autistic and nonautistic individuals. Fecal calprotectin and lactoferrin were similar in both groups. Differences between lactulose and rhamnose recovery and lactulose/rhamnose ratio in urine were not statistically different in patients with and without autism.

The present study supports the observation that children with autism who have symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders have objective findings similar to children without autism. Neither noninvasive testing nor endoscopic findings identify gastrointestinal pathology specific to autism, but may be of benefit in identifying children with autism who have atypical symptoms.

If you are getting ready to write, “but they might not have seen enough kids to find one with autistic enterocolitis”, according to Wakefield, most of the kids his team tested had his “new syndrome”. If that were true, this team would have found it.

Add this to “MMR causes autism” as one of the failed ideas of Andrew Wakefield. Not that he will ever admit it.

By Matt Carey

New study on inflammatory bowel disease and autism: Prevalence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Among Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

12 Aug

People with developmental disabilities often have additional medical issues at rates higher than the general population. For example, heart problems are more common in the Down Syndrome population and Timothy Syndrome. Hip dislocation is common among those in the Fragile X community. Mental health conditions and neurological disorders are very common in autistics (but somehow those are rarely mentioned in discussions of autism and comorbidities).

When it comes to autism parents online, perhaps the most talked about autism comorbidity is gastrointestinal disease. And, in specific, inflammatory bowel disease. This is a lasting legacy of Andrew Wakefield’s attempt to link the MMR vaccine and autism (an effort which set back work on autism and GI disease by a decade or more–see Blame Wakefield For Missed Autism-Gut Connection).

Mr. Wakefield’s assertion was that the MMR vaccine leads to a unique form of IBD (he dubbed it autistic enterocolitis, a condition which doesn’t appear to exist) and this somehow leads to autism. The model also asserts that autism rates have climbed with the introduction of the MMR in the UK (an argument that fails when when considers when the MMR was introduced in the U.S., but I digress). Given the Wakefield model, including the claim that the MMR has played a major role in the “autism epidemic”, we would expect a large fraction of autistics should have IBD.

With apologies to autistics with IBD for taking so long on this introduction–this all begs the question of what is the prevalence of IBD in the autistic population? Well, a recent study discusses this:

Prevalence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Among Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Before we get to the prevalence let’s consider the important points. First–IBD does exist in autistics. Given communication issues and sensory issues, any medical condition is serious in the autistic population. Second–IBD is more prevalent in the autistic population. What this may say about the biology of autistics and the developmental trajectory is not discussed in the abstract of this study.

Finally let’s ask how big is the prevalence of IBD in the autistic population? The study looked at two sample populations. In one population 7 out of 2728 (0.26%) autistics had IBD. For another, 16 of 7201 (0.22%). Just because the prevalence is small doesn’t mean this isn’t an important issue for the autism communities. But, let’s face it, the claims of high and rising IBD prevalence in the autism community–the claims by Mr. Wakefield to support his attack on the MMR vaccine–are just not true. And, yes, this also means that people who think that all or most autistic kids should be treated for IBD are also not doing a service. Yes, treat people with IBD. But no, don’t assume autism = person with IBD.

The fact that IBD is not that common in autistics is not really that new. I recall the press conference for the MMR/autism study by Hornig et al.. One thing that slowed the study was the fact that there weren’t that many autistic kids whose symptoms really indicated the need for a colonoscopy. Contrary to some practitioners who seem to believe that all autistics should be ‘scoped.

Here’s the abstract from the study:

The objective of this study was to measure the prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) among patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which has not been well described previously.

The rates of IBD among patients with and without ASD were measured in 4 study populations with distinct modes of ascertainment: a health care benefits company, 2 pediatric tertiary care centers, and a national ASD repository. The rates of IBD (established through International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification [ICD-9-CM] codes) were compared with respective controls and combined using a Stouffer meta-analysis. Clinical charts were also reviewed for IBD among patients with ICD-9-CM codes for both IBD and ASD at one of the pediatric tertiary care centers. This expert-verified rate was compared with the rate in the repository study population (where IBD diagnoses were established by expert review) and in nationally reported rates for pediatric IBD.

In all of case-control study populations, the rates of IBD-related ICD-9-CM codes for patients with ASD were significantly higher than that of their respective controls (Stouffer meta-analysis, P < 0.001). Expert-verified rates of IBD among patients with ASD were 7 of 2728 patients in one study population and 16 of 7201 in a second study population. The age-adjusted prevalence of IBD among patients with ASD was higher than their respective controls and nationally reported rates of pediatric IBD.

Across each population with different kinds of ascertainment, there was a consistent and statistically significant increased prevalance of IBD in patients with ASD than their respective controls and nationally reported rates for pediatric IBD.

By Matt Carey

Stephen Bustin: Why There Is no Link Between Measles Virus and Autism

9 Apr

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

The Wakefield Rehabilitation? Not really.

18 Oct

Reading about Andrew Wakefield gets old and tiring. I’m sure that isn’t news to readers here. Writing about Andew Wakefield gets very tiring. Who wants to keep reminding him/her self about a man who has caused so much harm to both the autism communities and public health in general? Who wants to read about dishonesty and unethical behavior?

I can only imagine that Brian Deer must want to put his award on a shelf and move on.

Which all begs the question: why do I think people reading Left Brain/Right Brain might want to read about him again? Because in this case it isn’t about Mr. Wakefield. Rather it is about his supporters. People who put aside the proved charges of dishonesty and unethical behavior. People such as Kent Heckenlively of the Age of Autism blog who are looking for The Wakefield Rehabilitation. It’s about how and why authors cite previous literature, and not reading too much into citations.

Beyond the hopes of those supporting Andrew Wakefield, there is some good research here and a bit of information about how and why people cite certain papers in the scientific literature.

First, how is Mr. Wakefield being “rehabilitated”? Answer: his papers were recently cited in a recent study. Seriously, something that small. That’s how hard people have to look for validation for Mr. Wakefield. A few citations and he’s on the road to rehabilitation.

The new paper isn’t by just any team, though. The study, recently out in PLoS One is Impaired Carbohydrate Digestion and Transport and Mucosal Dysbiosis in the Intestines of Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Disturbances. The study is a follow-on to the PLoS One paper by Hornig et al., Lack of association between measles virus vaccine and autism with enteropathy: a case-control study.

Why is that important? “Lack of association…” is the paper which definitively put an end to the Wakefield MMR hypothesis. The team tried, with meticulous attention to detail, to replicate the most important factors of various Wakefield MMR-autism papers. They studied children with autism and gastro-intestinal complaints. They restricted their study to children who had demonstrated clear need for endoscopy (one major difference from the Wakefield studies). They were very careful about correctly reporting the patient histories (another major difference). They tested intestinal biopsy samples for measles virus (similar to as study by the Wakefield team), but were very careful to avoid contamination (unlike the Wakefield studies). The recent study used multiple laboratories to test for measles virus (Wakefield used two: his own and the O’Leary laboratory). Unlike Mr. Wakefield, the recent study reported on results from all the laboratories (Mr. Wakefield neglected to mention the results from his own laboratory which were contradictory to his theory).

Hornig et al. wrote:

The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure. We found no relationship between the timing of MMR and the onset of either GI complaints or autism. We also could not confirm previous work linking the presence of MV RNA in GI tract to ASD with GI complaints.

About as clear a conclusion as I’ve ever seen. “The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure.”

So, what about the new paper and the citations? Well, members of the team that produced the Hornig et al. study did further research on the tissue samples taken. Brent L. Williams heads up the author list on the new study.

Here is the (highly technical) abstract from the new study by Williams et al.:

Gastrointestinal disturbances are commonly reported in children with autism, complicate clinical management, and may contribute to behavioral impairment. Reports of deficiencies in disaccharidase enzymatic activity and of beneficial responses to probiotic and dietary therapies led us to survey gene expression and the mucoepithelial microbiota in intestinal biopsies from children with autism and gastrointestinal disease and children with gastrointestinal disease alone. Ileal transcripts encoding disaccharidases and hexose transporters were deficient in children with autism, indicating impairment of the primary pathway for carbohydrate digestion and transport in enterocytes. Deficient expression of these enzymes and transporters was associated with expression of the intestinal transcription factor, CDX2. Metagenomic analysis of intestinal bacteria revealed compositional dysbiosis manifest as decreases in Bacteroidetes, increases in the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes, and increases in Betaproteobacteria. Expression levels of disaccharidases and transporters were associated with the abundance of affected bacterial phylotypes. These results indicate a relationship between human intestinal gene expression and bacterial community structure and may provide insights into the pathophysiology of gastrointestinal disturbances in children with autism.

If this were really about the autistics and not about Andrew Wakefield, those claiming that there is something different about the GI disturbances in autistics should be extatic. Here is a top notch team pointing to a possible real difference. In the kids tested, the genes were expressing enzymes and transporters–i.e. the genes are performing differently–for autistic kids. Also, they are seeing differences in the bacteria in the autistic kids.

Not only that, but these kids benefited from dietary intervention, although it isn’t specific to the autistic kids: “Beneficial effects of dietary intervention on GI disturbances were reported for all AUT-GI and Control-GI subjects with FA.”

But, it apparently isn’t about the autistics or the research when it comes to the Age of Autism. It’s about rehabilitating Andrew Wakefield’s reputation. (With apologies in advance–the image that comes to mind is a team that has been performing CPR on his reputation for years now. It’s time to move on.)

The important piece of this study, according to Mr. Heckenlively, is that they cite some of Andrew Wakefield’s papers. In particular:

Wakefield AJ, Anthony A, Murch SH, Thomson M, Montgomery SM, et al. (2000) Enterocolitis in children with developmental disorders. Am J Gastroenterol 95: 2285–2295.

Wakefield AJ, Ashwood P, Limb K, Anthony A (2005) The significance of ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia in children with autistic spectrum disorder. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 17: 827–836

Ashwood P, Anthony A, Torrente F, Wakefield AJ (2004) Spontaneous mucosal lymphocyte cytokine profiles in children with autism and gastrointestinal symptoms: mucosal immune activation and reduced counter regulatory interleukin-10. J Clin Immunol 24: 664–673.

Mr. Heckenlively appears to have built a nice straw man argument in which every thing Mr. Wakefield has done is now discredited. Somehow citing a paper by Mr. Wakefield then becomes some sort of a statement that everything he did was actually right. Both sides of that argument are false. The authors should cite what is in the literature. By citing, say, the Ashwood (2004) paper, they aren’t saying that, say, the 1998 Wakefield Lancet paper is now “rehabilitated’.

Notice that the authors didn’t cite the 1998 Lancet paper. One big reason: it’s been retracted. Which begs the question, why are the authors citing Wakefield et al. (2000)? The paper in the American Journal of Gastroenterology has also been been retracted:

On 28 January 2010, the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel raised concerns about a paper published in the Lancet by Dr Wakefi eld et al. (1). The main issues were that the patient sample collected was likely to be biased and that the statement in the paper, that the study had local ethics committee approval, was false. Th ere was also the possibility of a serious conflict of interest in the interpretation of the data. Th e Lancet has now retracted this paper (1). Th is paper in the American Journal of Gastroenterology (AJG) (2) also includes the 12 patients in the original Lancet article and therefore we retract this AJG paper from the public record.

One really shouldn’t cite things that have been retracted from the public record. So, is there some message that Williams et al. are trying to send us? Are they saying that Andrew Wakefield was correct all along? Hardly. That paper was retracted in May of 2011, the same time that Impaired Carbohydrate Digestion and Transport and Mucosal Dysbiosis in the Intestines of Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Disturbances was submitted to PLoS One. The authors weren’t aware of the retraction. Says a lot about how closely they follow Andrew Wakefield, don’t it?

Apparently, the authors have contacted PLoS about the citation, and it will be corrected to notify readers of the retraction. That is the right thing to do. It isn’t a statement about Mr. Wakefield’s research, other than this paper was retracted.

Authors can’t control the message bloggers may try to create from their research (heck, one of the authors, Ian Lipkin, consulted on the recent movie “Contagion”, a main character is a blogger whose message is unscientific and irresponsible). From what I’ve heard, the authors are still very clear on the message of their first PLoS paper: “The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure. ”

I think the point was made pretty clearly. Mr. Heckenlively in his excitement read way too much into this new paper. Not surprisingly, he just goes on and on making more mistakes. Consider this paragraph:

Isn’t Dr. Wakefield supposed to be some super-villain, leading all of us gullible parents to believe that vaccines aren’t quite as safe as sugar water? Didn’t he make up fake diseases? So, after being stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U. K., it turns out there really is something called autistic entercolitis and ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia in children with autism. At least Dr. W. Ian Lipkin seems to think so.

Wow. All this is extrapolated from a single sentence in the introduction of the paper: “Macroscopic and histological observations in ASD include findings of ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia, enterocolitis, gastritis, and esophagitis [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7].”

What does that sentence mean? Simple interpretation: others have reported these findings. Not “we confirm that these findings are real”. Given that reference [3] (a retracted Wakefield paper) may be removed or noted to be retracted, the only support for “enterocolitis” will be gone from the paper.

Mr. Heckenlively wrote “Although this study used a relatively small sample of gut biopsies from children with autism (Hey, isn’t that what Wakefield got in trouble for? Or is my memory failing me?),”

Mr. Heckenlively, your memory is failing you. The findings of the General Medical Council are easily found online.

Let me remind you of some of that document:

The Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s shortcomings and the aggravating factors in this case including in broad terms the wide-ranging transgressions relating to every aspect of his research; his disregard for the clinical interests of vulnerable patients; his failure to heed the warnings he received in relation to the potential conflicts of interest associated with his Legal Aid Board funding; his failure to disclose the patent; his dishonesty and the compounding of that dishonesty in relation to the drafting of the Lancet paper; and his subsequent representations about it, all played out against a background of research involving such major public health implications, could not be addressed by any conditions on his registration. In addition, the Panel considered that his actions relating to the taking of blood at the party exemplifies a fundamental failure in the ethical standards expected of a medical practitioner. It concluded that conditional registration would not mark the seriousness of such fundamental failings in his duty as a doctor


The Panel made findings of transgressions in many aspects of Dr Wakefield’s research. It made findings of dishonesty in regard to his writing of a scientific paper that had major implications for public health, and with regard to his subsequent representations to a scientific body and to colleagues. He was dishonest in respect of the LAB funds secured for research as well as being misleading. Furthermore he was in breach of his duty to manage finances as well as to account for funds that he did not need to the donor of those funds. In causing blood samples to be taken from children at a birthday party, he callously disregarded the pain and distress young children might suffer and behaved in a way which brought the profession into disrepute.

Mr. Heckelively also poses the question: “Didn’t he [Andrew Wakefield] make up fake diseases?”

That would be “autistic enterocolitis”, a term Andrew Wakefield coined and a condition which still, 13 years later, doesn’t have support. Autistic enterocolitis is not just any and all GI disturbances in autistics. Enterocolitis is “…an inflammation of the colon and small intestine”. Note the “and”, there. Even more important, the PLoSOne paper is not about inflammation at all.

Mr. Heckenlively finishes with the rather hopeful, wishful thinking statement: “But if a big shot scientist like Dr. W. Ian Lipkin is quoting Dr. Andrew Wakefield as a reliable source, maybe the rest of the world will soon be doing the same thing.”

Again, wow. Here we have Ian Lipkin, one of the team that just put an end to the Wakefield-MMR hypothesis. Again, let’s remind ourselves, Ian Lipkin is part of the team which wrote: “The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure.” There is such a major disconnect between that statement (which, yes, Dr. Lipkin stands by) and what Mr. Heckenlively wrote that I am just left in amazement.

This isn’t a story about rehabilitation. This is a story about diversion. Diversion of attention away from important subjects in autism. These include the medical treatment of major health problems. How does one treat something like bowel problems in individuals with communication and/or sensory difficulties? That’s a big question that gets lost in this whole “Andrew Wakefield” discussion. Research like this new paper is important in that respect: is there something specific to kids with autism, regression and GI disease? Leave aside any discussion about GI being linked to the regression, how do you treat it? I, for one, am glad to see something come out of this research project than just the “MMR doesn’t cause autism and GI disease” conclusion. Instead of trying to read the tea leaves of this paper and try to recoup the damage Andrew Wakefield did to his reputation, why don’t we just read the paper in the context of what this might tell us about the health problems of autistics?

No association between early gastrointestinal problems and autistic-like traits in the general population

28 Mar

Gastrointesintal problems are a common topic of discussion and debate in the online autism communities. Much of the discussion involves causation: do GI problems cause autism? A recent study looks at a tangent of this argument. Considering the general population, do GI problems early in life predict autistic traits later in life? The methodology isn’t the strongest: they use parent reports of GI complaints and the self-report questionaire Autism Quotient. They also asked about whether the individuals were immunized with the MMR vaccine.

The results:

There was no statistically significant difference in AQ scores between those who had (n=133) and those who had not (n=671) experienced early gastrointestinal symptoms. (2) analyses revealed that the children with early gastrointestinal problems were no more likely to be represented in the upper quintile of scores on any of the AQ scales. The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination was unrelated to gastrointestinal symptoms or AQ scores.

The abstract is quoted below:

No association between early gastrointestinal problems and autistic-like traits in the general population

The aim of this study was to determine whether gastrointestinal problems in early childhood relate to autistic-like traits in a general population sample.

The parents of 804 children (442 females; 362 males) reported at 1-, 2-, 3-, and 5-year follow-ups whether their child had been taken to a hospital, general practitioner, or health clinic for any of five gastrointestinal symptoms: (1) constipation; (2) diarrhoea; (3) abdominal bloating, discomfort, or irritability; (4) gastro-oesophageal reflux or vomiting; and (5) feeding issues or food selectivity. Parents also reported whether their child had received the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. Autistic-like traits were measured when the children had reached early adulthood (mean age 19y 7mo; SD 0.63y) using a self-report questionnaire, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ).


There was no statistically significant difference in AQ scores between those who had (n=133) and those who had not (n=671) experienced early gastrointestinal symptoms. (2) analyses revealed that the children with early gastrointestinal problems were no more likely to be represented in the upper quintile of scores on any of the AQ scales. The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination was unrelated to gastrointestinal symptoms or AQ scores.


Parent-reported gastrointestinal problems in early childhood are unrelated to self-reported autistic-like traits in the general population.

GI and autism studies ‘none of these trials appeared to be of high quality’

8 Feb

A new paper is due out soon looking at the available literature on GI and autism.

The significance of the association between many gastrointestinal (GI) pathologies and autism has yet to be discovered. The aim of the present study was to review available evidence documenting any link between autism and GI histopathology in children

I’ve only got the abstract to go by but even that is fairly damning.

Eight studies have reported the histopathological features of the GI tract in children with autism and fulfilled inclusion criteria. In general, none of these trials appeared to be of high quality. Apart from intestinal lymphonodular hyperplasia, the majority of these findings were not consistent….GI pathological findings in children with autism have been inconsistent. The present available evidence does not support or refute a link between GI histopathology and autism in children. The significance of intestinal lymphonodular hyperplasia in these children is unknown.

I’m hoping to get the full paper soon. It would be interesting to know what these eight studies were.


Here’s the eight papers of low quality:

Furlano RI, Anthony A, Day R, et al. Colonic CD8 and gamma delta Tcell
infiltration with epithelial damage in children with autism. J Pediatr

Wakefield AJ, Anthony A, Murch SH, et al. Enterocolitis in children
with developmental disorders. Am J Gastroenterol 2000;95:2285–95.

Torrente F, Ashwood P, Day R, et al. Small intestinal enteropathy with
epithelial IgG and complement deposition in children with regressive
autism. Mol Psychiatry 2002;7:375–82. 34.

Ashwood P, Anthony A, Pellicer AA, et al. Intestinal lymphocyte
populations in children with regressive autism: evidence for extensive
mucosal immunopathology. J Clin Immunol 2003;23:504–17.

Ashwood P, Anthony A, Torrente F, et al. Spontaneous mucosal
lymphocyte cytokine profiles in children with autism and gastrointestinal
symptoms: mucosal immune activation and reduced counter regulatory
interleukin-10. J Clin Immunol 2004;24:664–73.

Wakefield AJ, Ashwood P, Limb K, et al. The significance of ileocolonic
lymphoid nodular hyperplasia in children with autistic spectrum
disorder. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2005;17:827–36.

Torrente F, Anthony A, Heuschkel RB, et al. Focal-enhanced gastritis in
regressive autism with features distinct from Crohn’s and Helicobacter
pylori gastritis. Am J Gastroenterol 2004;99:598–605.

14. DeFelice ML, Ruchelli ED, Markowitz JE, et al. Intestinal cytokines in
children with pervasive developmental disorders. Am J Gastroenterol

No surprises there.

Secrets of the MMR scare: How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money

11 Jan

Last week, Brian Deer published an article in the BMJ How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. In it he lays out how data were misreported in Andrew Wakefield’s now retracted 1998 article in The Lancet. The BMJ editors published an editorial coincident with the Deer article, Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent.

In his latest article in the BMJ, Brian Deer lays out: Secrets of the MMR scare How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money

Andrew Wakefield had plans to make money. A lot of money. He created a business to produce diagnostic testing kits. He applied for a patent for a therapeutic agent and a proposed vaccine to prevent measles infections. This in addition to the money he was collecting as a paid expert to the MMR litigation in the UK.

On the diagnostic testing kit. Mr. Deer obtained the prospectus for the company that was formed to develop and market it:

“It is estimated that the initial market for the diagnostic will be litigation driven testing of patients with AE [autistic enterocolitis] from both the UK and the USA,” said a 35 page “private and confidential” prospectus, which was passed to me [Brian Deer] by a recipient.

He predicted £28,000,000 in revenue from the therapeutic and diagnostic products from his company.

Mr. Wakefield used a laboratory in Ireland, Unigenetics, headed by John O’Leary, to test tissue samples for measles virus. This is well known. Mr. Wakefield was a director of that laboratory.

The work by Unigenetics was key to the company’s success. Mr. Wakefield predicted–apparently in September 1996, before the research was completed–that Unigenetics would provide “unequivocal evidence for the presence of the vaccine derived measles virus in biopsy samples”

“Once the work of Professor O’Leary and Dr Wakefield is published, either late in 1999 or early in 2000, which will provide unequivocal evidence for the presence of the vaccine derived measles virus in biopsy samples,” the prospectus said, “the public and political pressure for a thorough, wide ranging investigation into the aetiology of the bowel conditions will be overwhelming.

“As a consequence of the public, political and legal pressures brought to bear, the demand for a diagnostic able to discriminate between wild type and vaccine derived measles strains will be enormous.”

That paper has since been discredited. First, a major attempt to replicate it failed. More importantly, Stephen Bustin, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on the methodology used (PCR), found that the Unigenetics laboratory’s methods were so seriously flawed as to make any results worthless (good summary here). Also, it was found that PCR data from Mr. Wakefield’s own research group were negative for measles virus, and that Mr. Wakefield buried those negative results.

It was because of these (and more) conflicts of interest that he was let go from the Royal Free Hospital (long before the Brian Deer investigation). Mr. Wakefield’s claim that his departure from the Royal Free was because his “research was unpopular”. Contrary to this position, the Royal Free had offered Mr. Wakefield the opportunity to prove his hypothesis.

But the paperwork does not show this. Despite all that had happened, UCL volunteered to support his work. It offered him continuation on the staff, or a year’s paid absence, to test his MMR theories. He was promised help for a study of 150 children (to try to replicate his Lancet claims from just 12) and, in return for withdrawing from the January London conference, he would be given the intellectual property free.

“Good scientific practice,” the provost’s letter stressed, “now demands that you and others seek to confirm or refute robustly, reliably, and above all reproducibly, the possible causal relationships between MMR vaccination and autism/“autistic enterocolitis”/inflammatory bowel disease that you have postulated.”

Yes, Mr. Wakefield had an offer on the table to take a year to prove his hypothesis. The Royal Free already had their doubts, and even more doubts about Mr. Wakefield’s conflicts of interest. And, yet, it would take a few more years before Brian Deer would make this public.

At first Mr. Wakefield agreed to the Royal Free’s proposal. But he never put the plan into action. When it became clear that he had no intent to follow through, he was let go from the Royal Free.

One defintion I found (the top definition at defines fraud thus:

deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.

As presented last week by Mr. Deer, data were manipulated to “fix” the results of Mr. Wakefield’s research. This week’s installment discloses how Mr. Wakefield sought to profit from this work. Pretty clear to this reader that this meets the definition of fraud.

Here is how the BMJ summarized the article:

Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced doctor who claimed a link between MMR and autism, planned secret businesses intended to make huge sums of money, in Britain and America, from his now-discredited allegations.

The Wakefield scheme is exposed today in the second part of a BMJ series of special reports, “Secrets of the MMR scare”, by investigative journalist Brian Deer. Last week we revealed the scientific fraud behind the appearance of a link between the vaccine and autism. Now Deer follows the money.

Drawing on investigations and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the report shows how Wakefield’s institution, the Royal Free Medical School in London, supported him as he sought to exploit the MMR scare for financial gain.

It reveals how Wakefield met with medical school managers to discuss a joint business even while the first child to be fully investigated in his research was still in the hospital, and how just days after publication of that research, which triggered the health crisis in 1998, he brought business associates to the Royal Free to continue negotiations.

One business, named after Wakefield’s wife, intended to develop Wakefield’s own “replacement” vaccines, diagnostic testing kits and other products which only stood any real chance of success if public confidence in MMR was damaged.

Documents reveal the planned shareholdings of Wakefield and his collaborators, and how much Wakefield expected to receive personally. Financial forecasts made available for the first time today show Wakefield and his associates predicting they could make up to £28 million ($43,367,082; €33,290,350) a year from the diagnostic kits alone.

“It is estimated that the initial market for the diagnostic will be litigation driven testing of patients with AE [autistic enterocolitis] from both the UK and the USA,” said a 35 page “private and confidential” prospectus obtained by Deer, aimed at raising an initial £700,000 from investors. “It is estimated that by year 3, income from this testing could be about £3,300,000 rising to about £28,000,000 as diagnostic testing in support of therapeutic regimes come on stream.”

Deer’s investigation also reveals today that Wakefield was offered support to try to replicate his results, gained from just 12 children, with a larger validated study of up to 150 patients, but that he refused to carry out the work, claiming that his academic freedom would be jeopardised. His research claims have never been replicated.

There will be at least one more installment in this series by Brian Deer in the BMJ.

Wakefield’s Lancet Paper – Lancet published vs NHS records

8 Jan

One of the key things that Brian Deer’s reporting has done is thrown doubt on the oft-repeated claims that

a) The papers subjects nearly all suffered from some form of colitis
b) The papers subjects nearly all suffered from regressive autism
c) The papers subjects nearly all regressed in the days following their MMR jab.

Nowhere is the more apparent than in the data tables supplied by Brian Deer in his report for the BMJ. They are replicated below:

In this first table above, the data shows that contrary to Wakefield’s Lancet data which shows 9 out of 12 having regressive autism, the kids NHS records are either inconclusive or negative, giving a _maximum possible_ amount of kids with regressive autism as 6 out of 12. Wakefield et al were ‘wrong’ about at least 3 kids.

In this second table above, the data shows that Wakefield et al Lancet data shows 11 out of 12 kids having non specific colitis. By comparison their NHS records show that 3 out of 12 have non specific colitis. Wakefield et al were ‘wrong’ about 9 out of 12 kids.

In this last table above, we can see that Wakefield reported in the Lancet that 8 out of 12 kids showed symptoms days after MMR. However, according to these same kids NHS records, a _maximum_ of 2 out of 12 showed symptoms days after receiving their MMR. Wakefield was ‘wrong’ about 6 children.

There is supplementary data on

The BMJ claim fraud. It is very difficult to disagree with them.

Urine test for autism? Hmmm

4 Jun

Following on from Lisa Jo’s well placed concerns about this study,I also have a few. Namely the references. Not being scientifically qualified to tackle the meat of the paper I look straight at what the researcher uses to support his ideas. So far I’ve found these references the authors base their paper on:

1) Kidd, P. M. Autism, an extreme challenge to integrative medicine. Part: 1: The knowledge base. Altern. Med. Rev. 2002, 7 (4), 292–316.

2) Ashwood, P.; Anthony, A.; Pellicer, A. A.; Torrente, F.; Walker-Smith, J. A.; Wakefield, A. J. Intestinal lymphocyte populations in children with regressive autism: evidence for extensive mucosal immunopathology. J. Clin. Immunol. 2003, 23 (6), 504–17.

3) Bolte, E. R. Autism and Clostridium tetani. Med. Hypotheses 1998, 51 (2), 133–44

4) James, S. J.; Cutler, P.; Melnyk, S.; Jernigan, S.; Janak, L.; Gaylor, D. W.; Neubrander, J. A. Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2004, 80 (6), 1611–7

At the very least, relying on studies from Alternative Medical Review, studies co-authored by Andrew Wakefield, studies from Medical Hypothesis and studies co-authored by Jim Neubrander should give rise to questions over the credibility of this paper. Is it enough to scupper it? Of course not. But when we take Lisa Jo’s questions into the bargain – that autism does not always, if ever, have a distinct GI component, I have to wonder about this paper.

GFCF of no benefit

19 May

This post is from Eureka Alert

A popular belief that specific dietary changes can improve the symptoms of children with autism was not supported by a tightly controlled University of Rochester study, which found that eliminating gluten and casein from the diets of children with autism had no impact on their behavior, sleep or bowel patterns.

The study is the most controlled diet research in autism to date. The researchers took on the difficult yet crucial task of ensuring participants received needed nutrients, as children on gluten-free, casein-free diets may eat inadequate amounts of vitamin D, calcium, iron and high quality protein. Unlike previous studies, they also controlled for other interventions, such as what type of behavioral treatments children received, to ensure all observed changes were due to dietary alterations. Past studies did not control for such factors. And although no improvements were demonstrated, the researchers acknowledged that some subgroups of children, particularly those with significant gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, might receive some benefit from dietary changes.

“It would have been wonderful for children with autism and their families if we found that the GFCF diet could really help, but this small study didn’t show significant benefits,” said Susan Hyman, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and principal investigator of the study which will be presented Saturday (May 22) at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia. “However, the study didn’t include children with significant gastrointestinal disease. It’s possible those children and other specific groups might see a benefit.”

In response to widespread parent-reported benefits, URMC initiated the trial in 2003 to scientifically evaluate the effects of the gluten-free and casein-free diet, which eliminates wheat, rye, barley and milk proteins. Parent observation has played an important role in earlier treatment discoveries in children with autism, such as melatonin’s benefits for sleep.

Hyman’s study enrolled 22 children between 2 ½- and 5 ½-years-old. Fourteen children completed the intervention, which was planned for 18 weeks for each family. The families had to strictly adhere to a gluten-free and casein-free diet and participate in early intensive behavioral intervention throughout the study. Children were screened for iron and vitamin D deficiency, milk and wheat allergies and celiac disease. One child was excluded because of a positive test for celiac disease and one was excluded for iron deficiency. Other volunteers who were excluded were unable to adhere to the study requirements. The children’s diets were carefully monitored throughout the study to make sure they were getting enough vitamin D, iron, calcium, protein and other nutrients.

After at least four weeks on the strict diet, the children were challenged with either gluten, casein, both or placebo in randomized order. They were given a snack once weekly with either 20 grams of wheat flour, 23 grams of non fat dried milk, both, or neither until every child received each snack three times. The type of snack was given in randomized order and presented so that no one observing – including the family, child, research staff and therapy team – knew what it contained. The snacks were carefully engineered to look, taste and feel the same, which was an exercise in innovative cooking. In addition, the nutrition staff worked closely with the families to make a snack that met their child’s preferences. Casein was disguised in pudding, yogurt or smoothies and gluten in banana bread, brownies, or cookies depending on the child’s food preferences.

Parents, teachers and a research assistant filled out standardized surveys about the child’s behavior the day before they received the snack, at two and 24 hours after the snack. (If the child’s behavior wasn’t usual at the scheduled snack time, the snack would be postponed until the child was back to baseline.) In addition, the parents kept a standard diary of food intake, sleep and bowel habits. Social interaction and language were evaluated through videotaped scoring of a standardized play session with a research assistant.

Following the gluten and casein snacks, study participants had no change in attention, activity, sleep or frequency or quality of bowel habits. Children demonstrated a small increase in social language and interest in interaction after the challenges with gluten or casein on the Ritvo Freeman Real Life Rating Scale; however, it did not reach statistical significance. That means because of the small difference and the small number of participants in the study, the finding may be due to chance alone.

The investigators note that this study was not designed to look at more restrictive diets or the effect of nutritional supplements on behavior. This study was designed to look at the effects of the removal of gluten and casein from the diet of children with autism (without celiac disease) and subsequent effect of challenges with these substances in a group of children getting early intensive behavioral intervention.

Hyman said, “This is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are many possible effects of diet including over- and under-nutrition, on behavior in children with ASD that need to be scientifically investigated so families can make informed decisions about the therapies they choose for their children.”