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SafeMinds: why won’t you tell your membership about the vaccine safety study you funded? Perhaps because it says vaccines are safe?

28 Aug

Earlier this year a paper was published on vaccine safety: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. This was a followup study to earlier pilot studies that got a lot of attention in the “vaccines-cause-autism” groups (Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: influence of gestational age and birth weight and Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants: a pilot study.)

It is worth noting that the pilot studies didn’t link vaccines to autism. They did make claims that some early reflexes were delayed in the monkeys given thimerosal containing vaccines. If you see someone talking about “root” or “snout” or “suck” reflexes in a vaccine discussion, they are referring to the studies above. These were pilot studies–small preliminary studies to see if it is worth launching a larger study. As such the results should have been taken with caution. But caution is not what groups like SafeMinds (or any of the groups that promote the failed vaccine-autism link) are known for. Inflating any scrap of evidence that can support their political point of view, that’s what they are known for.

SafeMinds made a big deal out of the early studies. Mark Blaxill (then of SafeMinds) called the study a “blockbuster” in a four thousand word analysis. That’s a lot of space to devote considering the full study was eight thousand words. And, as noted already, preliminary. But politics is politics.

Now, an intellectually honest person, or group, would watch for the followup study and report on it no matter the result. Because, let’s face it, if you are going to spend 4000 words overstating the importance of a study, scaring people and instilling them with guilt and pain over their child’s disability, you have a responsibility to do a follow up.

If you are intellectually honest.

So, as noted above, the follow up study was published. It was published in April. Four months ago. And I don’t see anything from Mr. Blaxill on the Age of Autism blog (where he posted his “blockbuster” article) or at the SafeMinds website on the followup study. SafeMinds has their own blog, and if you search it for, say “snout”, you get this article (Ground-Breaking Monkey Study: Mercury-Containing Hepatitis B Vaccine Causes Brain Damage) on the pilot study, calling it “groundbreaking” and claiming that it demonstrates that the thimerosal containing HepB vaccine causes brain damage.

Very strong words. Words which, if overblown, are very damaging. Imagine going through life as a parent thinking that you agreed to a vaccine and that caused brain damage to your child. Now imagine that the evidence you used to draw that conclusion was (a) not strong to begin with and (b) now refuted.

Wouldn’t you want to know the truth? Wouldn’t you expect the people and the organizations that convinced you of this falshood to seek you out and correct their mistake?

And this is why people don’t hold Mr. Blaxill or SafeMinds in high regard. They are quick to scare but don’t have the courage to admit they were wrong. Courage isn’t standing up and saying unpopular truths. Courage is standing up and admitting that your “unpopular truth” was, in fact, not the truth at all.

Now, why pick on SafeMinds in specific here? A lot of people and groups jumped on the pilot study and spread a lot of fear. Check out the footnotes of the study.

This work was supported by the Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family

SafeMinds helped fund the new study. The one they are ignoring. They were likely aware of the results before they were published. But no word.

I expect more from decent advocacy organizations. But I am not surprised with SafeMinds, nor Mark Blaxill.

Yes, the National Autism Association did too and they need to step up as well (a point I hope to make in a later article).

How about the Johnson Family? Well, the Johnson Center stepped up and put out a press release New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Infant Primates. (all SafeMinds, the Age of Autism and the National Autism Association needs to do as a start is publish the press release).

Here’s the last sentence of the press release, quoting the lead researcher: “Despite these limitations, the data in this primate study overwhelmingly provides support for the safety of pediatric vaccines”

It would take a lot of courage for SafeMinds and Mark Blaxill to publicize such a statement. More than they have.


By Matt Carey

Jim Carrey, you are part of the problem for us in the Autism Community

15 Jul

Years back Jim Carrey was and autism were mentioned together regularly in the news.  This was at the height of the vaccine misinformation campaign of his then partner, Jenny McCarthy.  Mr. Carrey went so far as to be a speaker at the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington.  That was 2008. Since then the Green Our Vaccines as a movement has died, Jenny McCarthy has tried to distance herself from her very vocal stance on vaccines, and given that Mr. Carrey and Ms. McCarthy split, it seemed like we had seen the last of Mr. Carrey.

Until recently.

You see Mr. Carrey took offense to new legislation in California.  A bill that will roll back vaccine exemptions to where personal belief exemptions will no longer be accepted in the schools here.  In other words, for the most part one will now need an actual medical reason to avoid vaccination in order to register for public school.

Mr. Carrey took to twitter with his complaints about the new law.  All well and good, free speech and all.  But Mr. Carrey went too far. He decided to take pictures of kids in distress and the implication that this is what happens when you vaccinate your kids. One tweet read ““A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!”” and included a picture of an autistic kid (the other pictures he used appear to have been stock images). The story is discussed by Emily Willingham as Jim Carrey Unwittingly Brings Attention To Something Actually Linked To Autism

And Time Magazine in Jim Carrey Apologizes for Using Photo of Autistic Boy in Anti-Vaccination Tweet.

Because, to give him credit, Mr. Carrey did apologize to that family. (Ironically, it turns out that the kid was unvaccinated when he was first diagnosed autistic).

I harken back to Mr. Carrey’s time with the autism community (remember when Generation Rescue was tagged as “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization”?). At one speech, probably the Green Our Vaccines Rally, Mr. Carrey made the pseduo-profound statement, “We are not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

So while I do appreciate Mr. Carrey stepping up and apologizing to one family, I do want to point out: Mr. Carrey, you were one of the problems for the autism community. And you apparently still are.

Ms. McCarthy introduced you to a closed group of people, a small sampling of the autism community. You likely came away thinking that they *are* the autism community, because that’s how they think of themselves.

They aren’t.

Most of us autism parents don’t subscribe to the vaccine causation idea. I can provide the links to multiple studies if you like, but it’s just the way things are.

And autism parents are not the autism community. One thing that Generation Rescue and like organizations have done is act like autistics are some sort of second class citizens in the community. Who do you think the community primarily is, autistics or parents?

Here’s the thing: the vaccine-causation idea is probably the most damaging notion to have hit the autism community. Did you hear about the “refrigerator mother” theory during your time at Generation Rescue? It’s second to the vaccine causation theory. Telling generations of disabled kids that they are less than they are, that they should be someone else, is damaging. Mr. Carrey, did you attend any of those parent conventions, like AutismOne? Perhaps you look at alternative medicine favorably. Well, the vaccine causation idea is used to sell “therapies” that aren’t close to being “alternative”. They are just wrong. And, frankly, abusive. Chemical castration of disabled children? This was promoted multiple times at conventions where your former partner was a keynote speaker. Fake diagnoses of mercury poisoning, followed by chelation? Same. And even a major promoter of chelation has a new study showing it doesn’t work. Did anyone tell you why the NIH autism/chelation trial was stopped? Because if you chelate test animals who do not have mercury intoxication, they go down cognitively. If the same happens in humans, tens of thousands of autistic children lost some IQ due to chelation. Think that one over, since GR started out as primarily an org promoting chelation. Daily bleach drinks and bleach enemas? That one is probably new since you dropped out. But, yep, that gets sold as a cure for “vaccine injury”. Shall I go on? Because I can. The autism=vaccine injury idea sells junk medicine which is subjected upon disabled children.

And you added your voice to the vaccine-causation idea.

You’ve apologized to one family. That took guts. Now step up and start making amends to the rest of us. Parents and, especially, autistics.


By Matt Carey

Press Release: New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Infant Primates

26 Apr

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center (formerly Thoughtful House). It is about a recent follow-up study they performed (discussed here). I’ll give the press release below with no further comment except to highlight this statement by the lead researcher: “Despite these limitations, the data in this primate study overwhelmingly provides support for the safety of pediatric vaccines.

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – February 18, 2015 – A research study published today in Environmental Health Perspectivesreported that vaccination of infant macaques with thimerosal-containing vaccines did not negatively impact neurodevelopment, cognition, or behavior. In this study animals received several pediatric vaccines containing thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in a schedule similar to that given to infants in the 1990s. Other animals received just the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which does not contain thimerosal, or an expanded vaccine schedule similar to that recommended for US infants today. Control animals received a saline injection. Regardless of vaccination status, all animals developed normally.

“This comprehensive study of infant primate development, including analyses of learning, cognition, and social development, indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal or the MMR vaccine; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded vaccine schedule” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, the principle investigator of the study.

Hewitson worked with a team of researchers at the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory and the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA. According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was still used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. Although in 1999 the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that thimerosal be removed from vaccines in the US, it is still used as a preservative in multi-dose flu shots, which are recommended for pregnant women and children 6 months of age and older.

“This is the first time the safety of the entire pediatric vaccine schedule has been investigated in a relevant animal model,” said Dr. Judy Van de Water from the UC-Davis MIND Institute, who was not involved in this study.

Hewitson also noted, “As with any animal study, assessments were implemented under controlled laboratory conditions. We did not test all of the interacting variables that could contribute to an adverse outcome, such as birth weight, gestational age, genetic vulnerability, or in utero and post-natal chemical exposures. The interaction between multiple environmental exposures or genetic factors that may impact vaccine response, which is an important aspect of the vaccine debate, was not addressed in this study. Despite these limitations, the data in this primate study overwhelmingly provides support for the safety of pediatric vaccines.”

Citation

Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. Britni Curtis, Noelle Liberato, Megan Rulien, Kelly Morrisroe, Caroline Kenney, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, C. Nathan Marti, Dorothy Mandell, Thomas M. Burbacher, Gene P. Sackett and Laura Hewitson. Environmental Health Perspectives, Feb 18, 2015; doi:10.1289/ehp.1408257.
Once the embargo lifts, this article can be downloaded for free at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408257.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR00166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

About The Johnson Center

The mission of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development is to advance the understanding of childhood development through clinical care, research, and education.


By Matt Carey

Comment on: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior.

21 Feb

There is a common myth one hears from one group of autism parents: there is no research on autism and vaccines being performed. Usually this is combined with the insinuation that the government is scared of vaccine/autism research. The claims are often made by people who should (and likely do) know better.

One of the few places one can find a discussion of the ongoing vaccine/autism work is here at Left Brain/Right Brain. In a post last year I address the question of Why won’t the government fund vaccine/autism research?, which was really a post about how there is work being funded. In case the title was unclear, I also wrote More of that vaccine/autism research that doesn’t exist. Other articles include What projects are being funded in autism research? Part 1: vaccines and GI issues.

In one of those articles I wrote:

There’s a study by Gene Sackett’s group, A PRIMATE MODEL OF GUT, IMMUNE, AND CNS RESPONSE TO CHILDHOOD VACCINES. This appears to be a follow on project to the Laura Hewitson studies that were discussed a great deal online a few years ago.

And, guess what? A study by Gene Sackett, together with Laura Hewitson and others, has just been published: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. It may not be the study referenced above as that study was government funded, but this new study addresses some of the concerns raised by previous studies published by Laura Hewitson’s team. If you wonder what I mean by “addressed”, here’s the last phrase of the abstract: the study “…provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.”

No evidence of harm.

Gene Sackett was a collaborator on one of those previous studies by Laura Hewitson: Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: influence of gestational age and birth weight. This study was discussed a great deal by those promoting the vaccine/autism link (say here, here, here and elsewhere. It was called a “blockbuster” study by Mark Blaxill (then of SafeMinds, now of the Canary Party, both groups who promote the failed idea that the rise in autism diagnoses was caused by thimerosal in vaccines) on the Age of Autism blog. Dan Olmsted (of the same blog) called the results “explosive”. They both downplayed the preliminary nature of the study and the small sample size and way overplayed the importance of the results.

And as this new study clarifies, both were wrong. Both spread guilt and fear: one can still find parents talking online about how their child was delayed in one of the reflexes discussed in the study and, thus, was harmed by thimerosal in vaccines. Just an example of the harm the people pushing the idea that vaccines and autism are linked have caused.

As noted above, this new study clears up the concerns raised by the earlier studies. If history is any guide, Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill will not demonstrate the courage needed to admit their mistakes nor try to correct the damage they have caused. I would love to be wrong and have to write an apology to them.

Here is the abstract to Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior.

Abstract
BACKGROUND:
In the 1990s, the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, was used in most pediatric vaccines. While there are currently only two thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) recommended for pediatric use, parental perceptions that vaccines pose safety concerns are affecting vaccination rates, particularly in light of the much expanded and more complex schedule in place today.
OBJECTIVES:
The objective of this study was to examine the safety of pediatric vaccine schedules in a non-human primate model.
METHODS:
We administered vaccines to 6 groups of infant male rhesus macaques (n=12-16/group) using a standardized thimerosal dose where appropriate. Study groups included the recommended 1990s pediatric vaccine schedule, an accelerated 1990s primate schedule with or without the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, the MMR vaccine only, and the expanded 2008 schedule. We administered saline injections to age-matched control animals (n=16). Infant development was assessed from birth-12 months of age by examining the acquisition of neonatal reflexes, the development of object concept permanence (OCP), computerized tests of discrimination learning, and infant social behavior. Data were analyzed using ANOVAs, multi-level modeling, and survival analyses, where appropriate.
RESULTS:
There were no group differences in the acquisition of OCP. During discrimination learning animals receiving TCVs had improved performance on reversal testing, although some of these same animals performed poorer in subsequent learning set testing. Analysis of social and non-social behaviors identified few instances of negative behaviors across the entire infancy period. While some group differences in specific behaviors were reported at 2 months of age, by 12 months all infants, irrespective of vaccination status, had developed the typical repertoire of macaque behaviors.
CONCLUSIONS:
This comprehensive five-year, case-control study, which closely examined the effects of pediatric vaccines on early primate development, provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.

Let’s repeat that conclusion for emphasis: This comprehensive five-year, case-control study, which closely examined the effects of pediatric vaccines on early primate development, provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.

The full paper is available online. In it you can read this:

This data is in contrast to our previous pilot study in which a delay in the acquisition of the root, suck, and snout survival reflexes were reported for primate infants following exposure to the birth dose of the thimerosal containing Hep B vaccine (Hewitson et al. 2010a). This discrepancy is most likely due to the larger number of animals in the present study providing more accurate estimates. Furthermore, in the present study reflexes were examined from birth to 21 days of age, during which some animals received multiple TCVs (not just a single Hep B vaccine as was used in the previous 23 study), and yet no detrimental effects on the acquisition of survival reflexes were reported for these animals.

Hewitson 2010a is Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: Influence of gestational age and birth weight. This is the “blockbuster” study according to Mark Blaxill. Ironically, Mr. Blaxill’s article links to the first publication of the “blockbuster”, the version that was retracted.

The first thing that people who promote the vaccine/autism link would do with a study like this, one that doesn’t find a link between vaccines and harm, is claim that it isn’t “independent” and the authors and/or funding agencies are too biased. So, let’s look at the authors

Britni Curtis,1 Noelle Liberato,1 Megan Rulien,1 Kelly Morrisroe,1 Caroline Kenney,1 Vernon Yutuc,1 Clayton Ferrier,1 C. Nathan Marti,2 Dorothy Mandell,3 Thomas M. Burbacher,1,4 Gene P. Sackett,1,5 and Laura Hewitson1,6,7

1Infant Primate Research Laboratory (IPRL), Washington National Primate Research Center, and Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD), Seattle, Washington, USA; 2Abacist Analytics, LLC, Austin, Texas, USA; 3Independent Consultant, Austin, Texas, USA; 4Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA; 5Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA; 6The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, Austin, Texas, USA; 7Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, Texas, USA

Laura Hewitson was the lead researcher in the previous macaque studies, the ones often quoted as providing evidence of a link between thimerosal and autism. Her organization (The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development) was formerly referred to as Thoughtful House and was directed in that time by Andrew Wakefield. Thomas Burbacher and Gene Sackett have also been involved with previous animal studies on thimerosal, including this one often cited again as evidence of a link between vaccines and autism.

The funding?

This work was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR0166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

Both SafeMinds and the National Autism Association are strong proponents of the idea that vaccines cause autism.

Under competing financial interests we read:

Competing financial interests: Drs. Marti and Mandell provided consulting services as independent contractors in regards to the data analyses. Neither person has provided services to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines or their representatives, nor have they been an expert witness in thimerosal, or similar suits. The other authors declare they have no actual or potential competing financial interests.

I will leave you with the final paragraph of the new study

In summary, we did not find evidence of an adverse impact of vaccination status on early neurodevelopmental measures, including the acquisition of neonatal reflexes and the development of object permanence. This was true for animals receiving TCVs, as well as animals in the 2008 group, which received the expanded pediatric vaccine schedule that remains very similar to the currently recommended schedule. Although some animals receiving TCVs performed better in the reversal phase of discrimination learning compared to controls, this association was not consistent across all study groups with thimerosal exposure. Furthermore, learning set performance appeared to be poorest for animals in the TCV group but this observation was not mirrored in the 1990s Primate group. Finally, all infants, irrespective of vaccine status, developed the typical social behaviors for this age of animal, with very few instances of negative behaviors reported. While the data as a whole does not support a consistent adverse effect of TCVs on primate development, factors that may modulate the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of thimerosal, such as genetics, gender, birth weight, gestational age, maternal health, and chemical co-exposures, should be thoroughly investigated.


By Matt Carey

Autism and mercury: never held a lot of interest, and now almost none

25 Jan

10 years ago if one went into online discussions about autism, one would find those discussions dominated by parents and one would find a few parents in those discussions trying to dominate the discussions with comments about how autism is caused by mercury in vaccines. David Kirby’s flawed book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy came out in 2006. Robert Kennedy Jr.’s even more flawed article “Deadly Immunity” had come out in 2005. Both caused a stir, no doubt. Kirby got a best seller out of it and there were even talks of a movie. But even then, only small fraction of parents were engaging in chelation of their children (thankfully a small number, but it should have never been used as an autism therapy). But, what the autism/mercury movement lacked in numbers they made up for with volume. Aided by some wealthy people who made sure the idea got publicity.

But, how much interest has there really been in the autism and mercury? And where are we now?

I used a simple method to look at interest: Google trends. Google Trends gives us a measure of how often a search term is used over time.

So, what does the trend look like for the search terms autism mercury? (click to enlarge)

Autism Mercury

One sees those spikes in the 2005-06 time frame. But what since? Aside from some noise, a steady decline. People just aren’t searching on autism and mercury much anymore.

And “much” is a relative term. Let’s consider autism as a search term on it’s own. (Click to enlarge)

autism

Lot’s of spikes, but interest is relatively flat over time. So the drop in the “mercury autism” search isn’t due to a drop in autism interest. Sure, some people are likely just entering “autism” and looking for autism and mercury, but, still, interest is way down for mercury.

One thing about Google trends is that they normalize their graphs. They take the highest interest level and set that at 100. So the two graphs above don’t tell us how the “autism mercury” search compares with interest in autism in general. Let’s graph them both, shall we? (click to enlarge)

autism and autism mercury comparison

Blue is autism. Red autism mercury. Yes, that line at the bottom that is so small you can’t see the trend at all is autism mercury. And that’s the point that I found most interesting. For all the noise made by the “mercury moms” in the past, the mercury idea was never as big a movement as they would like you to believe.


By Matt

No, autism in Scandinavia isn’t rare and “high functioning”

30 Jul

There’s a belief I’ve seen recently online claiming that studies from Scandinavia don’t relate to the U.S. because autism is rare there (3 in 10,000) and that autism in Scandinavia is primarily “high functioning”, Asperger syndrome or the like. I won’t link to the discussions as I’ve tried to avoid using the blog to continue discussions found online elsewhere.

I don’t know where this myth originated. But here’s a recent study from Sweden and this result (1.15% autism prevalence, intellectual disability in 42.6%)

The 2007 year prevalence of ASD in all children and young people was 11.5 per 1,000 (95% confidence interval 11.2–11.8), with a co-morbid intellectual disability recorded in 42.6% (41.0–44.2) of cases. We found 96.0% (92.0–98.4) of reviewed case-notes being consistent with a diagnosis of ASD, and confirmed ASD in 85.2% (66.2–95.8) of affected twins.

Yep. Prevalence comparable to the US and with a similar level of intellectual disability.

While we are at it–the prevalence is also pretty much flat for ages 9-18 (kids born from 1989 to 1998) as well.

plos_sweden_figure_1_top[1]

As noted before, thimerosal exposure from infant vaccines was low in Sweden before the 1990’s and was reduced to zero in the early 1990’s. So, for few people still clinging to the “thimerosal epidemic” idea, here’s another nail to add to that coffin.

Another recent study shows prevalence in Scandinavian countries to be between .5 and 1 per 1,000.


By Matt Carey

More of that vaccine/autism research that doesn’t exist

17 Jul

There are some parents who want research on vaccines and autism. I may not agree that this is the best way to spend our limited resources, but there’s no denying that this group exists and is very vocal. One thing that surprises me is that these parents appear to be unaware of vaccine/autism research that is ongoing. Not just the studies that come out that show us over and over again that autism risk is not increased by vaccines. But other projects. Biology. Studies on regression. And more. I pointed out recently that using NIH Reporter, one can find a number of projects on autism and vaccines or autism and mercury.

But NIH is not the only Federal agency funding autism research. And there are private funders as well. As I mentioned in my previous article, another place to look for funded research projects is the IACC/OARC Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Web Tool as this includes work the various groups represented on the IACC–both Federal and Private. Unfortunately, this tool only has 2008, 2009 and 2010 projects (had the GAO not required OARC to provide a lot of information last year, perhaps this tool would be updated by now. But such is the government.) But, even with this limitation in years, let’s see what projects come up with searches for vaccines or mercury. I’ll give the titles first, and then the abstracts for these projects below.

It’s understandable that parent advocates are not aware of these projects. I’ve written about this before (“What projects are being funded in autism research? Part 1: vaccines and GI issues”) but I think it’s safe to say that parents who believe in the vaccine/autism connection do not frequent Left Brain/Right Brain. There are places on the web that carry that message (for example, the Age of Autism blog and the sites of the organizations that sponsor it). They aren’t telling their constituencies about the ongoing research efforts. As an example, as I was finishing this article, SafeMinds came out with a letter discussing how no work is being performed on vaccines and autism.

Again, this list is only for 2008, 2009 and 2010. More recent projects from NIH were discussed here.

Vulnerability phenotypes and susceptibility to environmental toxicants: From organism to mechanism (funded by Autism Speaks)

Evaluation of the immune and physiologic response in children with autism following immune challenge (funded by Autism Speaks)

Vaccination with regression study (funded by Autism Speaks)

Vaccine safety datalink thimerosol and autism study (Federally Funded)

Analysis of developmental interactions between reelin haploinsufficiency, male sex, and mercury exposure (Funded by Autism Speaks)

MeHG stimulates antiapoptotic signaling in stem cells (Federally funded: DoD)

Etiology of autism risk involving MET gene and the environment (Funded by Autism Speaks)

Epidemiological research on autism in Jamaica (Federally Funded, NIH)

investigation on the potential harmful effects of mercury in the nonhuman primate (Funded by SafeMinds)

Investigating the effect of mercury on ASD, AD and ASD regression (Funded by SafeMinds)

The effect of mercury and neuropeptide triggers on human mast cell release of neurotoxic molecules (Funded by SafeMinds)

Does mercury and neurotension induce mitochondrial DNA release from human mast cells and contribute to auto-immunity in ASD? (Funded by SafeMinds)

Toxicant-induced autism and mitochondrial modulation of nuclear gene expression (Federally Funded: DoD)

Below are the abstracts for these research projects.

Vulnerability phenotypes and susceptibility to environmental toxicants: From organism to mechanism (funded by Autism Speaks)

One hypothesis regarding the association between genetic changes, environmental factors and autism is that many mutations or polymorphisms make the organism more vulnerable to later exposure in some individuals. Called the “vulnerability phenotype”, the Noble lab hypothesizes that one potential unifying theme of the vulnerability phenotype of children with ASD is that they are more oxidized. This elevated oxidation state has been shown to be sufficient to cause dramatic changes in cellular function. In this project, Dr. Noble will test the hypotheses that genetically-based differences in oxidative status are associated with differences in vulnerability to physiological stressors in vitro and in vivo, with even greater increases in vulnerability to combinations of physiological stressors. Specifically, thimerosal and other vaccine adjuvants will be studied. The second part of the study will determine if these effects on a novel regulatory pathway called redox/Fyn/c-Cbl is a necessary mechanistic convergence for increases in vulnerability caused by a more oxidized metabolic status. These results will provide a better understanding of the biochemical effects and mechanisms of possible toxicity of vaccines and vaccine additives. What this means for people with autism: These studies will initially focus on the combination of vaccine additives, but then examine whether a background genetic vulnerability phenotype affects the response to these additives. The results would provide new targets for intervention against the adverse effects of increased oxidative status in children with autism.


Evaluation of the immune and physiologic response in children with autism following immune challenge
(funded by Autism Speaks)

The overall goal of this proposal is to address immune function in children with autism, including the response to vaccine challenge, and how that relates to behavior. Evidence suggests that autism is associated in some cases with altered immune function, but the response of the immune system in children with autism to specific immune challenges, such as vaccines, has not been investigated directly. While it has been reported that some children with autism respond poorly following vaccination with symptoms ranging from rash, diarrhea, irritability, seizures, and loss of skills, no careful, thorough approach has been undertaken to fully characterize this issue, both at the biology and behavior level. We propose to use our current CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) and Autism Phenome Project (APP) study population to address this critical issue. The overall approach would include an examination of the immune response to both viral and bacterial vaccines in children with autism, as compared to typically developing age-matched controls, in real time following vaccination at 5 years of age. Vaccines have advantages for directly studying the immune response as they provide a known, scheduled immune challenge, whose dose is well characterized – making it possible to collect and interpret immune response data at the time that it occurs. Therefore, we think that exposure to an immune challenge with vaccine would result in an increase in inflammation compared to controls in a subpopulation of children with autism. However, we also anticipate that some children will respond to vaccine challenge differently, depending on form of the vaccine, i.e. viral vs. bacterial. Thus, we propose to address the issue of immune function in children with autism through a careful analysis of the immune system, medical and mitochondrial issues, and behavioral response to both viral and bacterial vaccines.

Vaccination with regression study (funded by Autism Speaks)

A major challenge to studying autism with a suspected vaccine-related regression is identifying children with acute regressive-type symptoms following MMR vaccination; there are no specific codes, tests, or procedures that identify this occurrence with a high degree of specificity. This study will explore the Kaiser Permanente electronic databases to ascertain whether we can identify children with regressive type autism and identify the timing of the regression in relation to the period directly following MMR vaccination. In order to see if identification of regressive autism from medical records is possible, the investigators will attempt to identify children vaccinated with MMR who then abruptly undergo a ‘cluster’ of visits, tests, and/or procedures in the time period directly following vaccination. The researchers feel that there may be a number of children who receive a diagnosis (such as ‘prolonged crying’) in the emergency department on the day after vaccination, followed shortly thereafter (1-2 days later) by another set of diagnoses (such as ‘fever’ & ‘irritability’) in the pediatric office or other outpatient department, and then receive either diagnostic or laboratory tests indicating (at least) a moderate degree of severity of concern, such as CT scans, metabolic testing, or referral to neurology. If this study is successful in using medical databases to identify a specific group of children with demonstrable autism-related regression that clearly follows vaccination, it may point to the feasibility of further studies concentrating on this specific population.

Vaccine safety datalink thimerosol and autism study (Federally Funded)

The Thimerosal and Autism Study is a case-control study conducted in three U.S. managed care organizations (MCOs). Data collection began in 2005 and took three years to complete. In this study, children who were diagnosed with autism were matched with control children. The autism diagnosis of the case samples was confirmed by a standardized clinical assessment protocol. Vaccination histories and information on other potential confounding factors were confirmed by reviewing the medical records for all children. In addition, the mothers of both cases and matched controls were interviewed.

Analysis of developmental interactions between reelin haploinsufficiency, male sex, and mercury exposure (Funded by Autism Speaks)

This project will investigate the role of three separate factors in an animal model of autism spectrum disorder: a) genetic susceptibility, b) hormonal environment, and c) possible environmental triggers. A mouse model with a mutation of the reelin gene, implicated in autism spectrum disorders, will be studied after exposure to methyl and ethyl mercury. Both behaviors and neuropathological endpoints will be explored. Finally, the role of endogenous sex hormones will be examined by eliminating the testosterone “surge” around the time of puberty. The individual effects of each will be examined, as well as the interaction of the three components (genetic liability, environmental exposure, hormonal influences) to determine gene x environment interactions. What this means for people with autism: This study will use a unique design to study multiple factors in the etiology of autism spectrum disorder in a mouse model, isolating and combining factors which previously have been implicated in the pathophysiology and behavioral phenotype.

MeHG stimulates antiapoptotic signaling in stem cells (Federally funded: DoD)

This project is a study of the antiapoptotic effect of low concentration of methly mercury and cadmium in cells.

Etiology of autism risk involving MET gene and the environment (Funded by Autism Speaks)

Two independent lines of evidence indicate that the maternal immune system and a functional genetic variant contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk. Here, the Van De Water lab will partner with scientists at Vanderbilt University to examine whether these two seemingly unrelated contributions may converge to define a unique ASD susceptibility. Preliminary evidence collected by the Van De Water lab indicates an association between the Mesenchymal epithelial transition factor (MET) gene ‘C’ type, which reduces MET protein expression, and the presence of specific maternal anti-fetal brain autoantibodies. This relationship suggests that this as a pathway for production of the maternal autoantibodies, leading to a gene x environment interaction underlying ASD susceptibility. The next line of experiments will examine the relationship in an even larger sample and assess the functional effect of the MET gene polymorphism on immune cell activity as well as further examine the impact of environmental toxins (including ethyl mercury) on the gene expression-dependent function of maternal immune cells.

Epidemiological research on autism in Jamaica (Federally Funded, NIH)

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) appears to be on the rise in developed countries and has become a serious public health concern. In most developing countries, however, the nature and prevalence of factors associated with ASDs are unknown. The long term goal of this planning project is to develop capacity for conducting large scale population-based ASD studies in Jamaica. First, the diagnostic criteria used in Jamaica and the United States will be compared. Then, questionnaires regarding the demographic and socioeconomic position, occupation, and drinking habits of each child’s parents will be used, and information will be gathered about family history of developmental disorders, family size, birth order of the affected child, and whether the child is taking any medications. An age and sex matched case-control study, including a dietary questionnaire, will also be conducted to investigate whether environmental exposures to mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium play a role in autism. Blood and saliva samples will be collected to determine if any DNA polymorphisms that might affect interactions with heavy metals are present in children with ASD. New knowledge of potential environmental risk factors for ASD may arise from this research, thereby reducing physical, psychological, and economic burdens on the child, family, and society and helping parents make decisions about avoiding exposure to environmental contaminants.

An investigation on the potential harmful effects of mercury in the nonhuman primate (Funded by SafeMinds)

An investigation into the effect of mercury on neurons, astrocytes, and microglia on the central nervous system of the nonhuman primate.

Investigating the effect of mercury on ASD, AD and ASD regression (Funded by SafeMinds)

An investigation into the influences of demographics and environmental variables in the development of neurodevelopmental problems such as AD, ASD, and ASD-regression

The effect of mercury and neuropeptide triggers on human mast cell release of neurotoxic molecules (Funded by SafeMinds)

An investigation to determine the pro-inflammatory effects of mitochondrial DNA with and without mast cell triggers.

Does mercury and neurotension induce mitochondrial DNA release from human mast cells and contribute to auto-immunity in ASD? (Funded by SafeMinds)

Further investigation into preliminary data that neurotensin (NT) stimulates mast cell activation and that NT is elevated in young children with autism spectrum disorder.

Toxicant-induced autism and mitochondrial modulation of nuclear gene expression (Federally Funded: DoD)

Autism has been associated with epigenetic changes: Tiny chemical tags in the regulatory regions of genes that affect how genes express themselves by turning them on or off. One gene often decreased in expression in the brain tissue of autistic individuals is MECP2, a gene that governs the expression of genes crucial to brain development. Exposure to environmental pollutants is also thought to play a role in autism. These two phenomena both involve a small cellular organ called mitochondria. The suspect environmental pollutants are toxic to mitochondria, which play a critical role in epigenetics: Pollution exposure can lower the amount of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in a cell, causing an increase in placement of epigenetic tags by DNMT1 that leads to gene silencing. We hypothesize that exposure during pregnancy to pollutants toxic to mitochondria causes a decrease in mtDNA copy number and increased placement of epigenetic tags by DNMT1 on key developmental genes, affecting pathways that have direct roles in the development of autism. We will expose mice, during pregnancy, to selected toxicants and evaluate adult behavior and associated biochemical changes in brain tissue. Valproic acid will be used as a positive control, with saline as a negative control. The environmental pollutants lead, arsenic, cadmium, manganese, mercury, and permethrin will be investigated for their potential to induce autistic behavior changes. Brain tissue will then be used for molecular studies of mtDNA copy number, expression of DNMT1, and alterations to the epigenome on both a genomewide and gene-specific level.


By Matt Carey

Note: I serve as a public member to the IACC. My views here and elsewhere are my own, not those of the Committee.