It is 15 years since Andrew Wakefield first hypothesised a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in children, mediated by an inflammatory bowel condition (subsequently labelled ‘autistic entercolitis’). Over this period Dr Wakefield and his supporters have cited a range of studies which are claimed to ‘verify’, ‘replicate’ or ‘support’ his MMR-autism theory. Here is the most recent list:
‘Here is a list of 28 studies from around the world that support Dr. Wakefield’s research:
1.The Journal of Pediatrics November 1999; 135(5):559-63
2.The Journal of Pediatrics 2000; 138(3): 366-372
3.Journal of Clinical Immunology November 2003; 23(6): 504-517
4.Journal of Neuroimmunology 2005
5.Brain, Behavior and Immunity 1993; 7: 97-103
6.Pediatric Neurology 2003; 28(4): 1-3
7.Neuropsychobiology 2005; 51:77-85
8.The Journal of Pediatrics May 2005;146(5):605-10
9.Autism Insights 2009; 1: 1-11
10.Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology February 2009; 23(2): 95-98
11.Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 2009:21(3): 148-161
12.Journal of Child Neurology June 29, 2009; 000:1-6
13.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders March 2009;39(3):405-13
14.Medical Hypotheses August 1998;51:133-144.
15.Journal of Child Neurology July 2000; ;15(7):429-35
17.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia January-March 1971;1:48-62
18.Journal of Pediatrics March 2001;138:366-372.
19.Molecular Psychiatry 2002;7:375-382.
20.American Journal of Gastroenterolgy April 2004;598-605.
21.Journal of Clinical Immunology November 2003;23:504-517.
22.Neuroimmunology April 2006;173(1-2):126-34.
23.Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol Biol. Psychiatry December 30 2006;30:1472-1477.
24.Clinical Infectious Diseases September 1 2002;35(Suppl 1):S6-S16
25.Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2004;70(11):6459-6465
26.Journal of Medical Microbiology October 2005;54:987-991
27.Archivosvenezolanos de puericultura y pediatría 2006; Vol 69 (1): 19-25.
28.Gastroenterology. 2005:128 (Suppl 2);Abstract-303
Which of these studies supports a link between MMR and autism? None of them. Which studies support a link between MMR and inflammatory bowel disease? None. In fact, none of these studies focuses on MMR: the term ‘MMR’ is not included in any of the titles.
One study (no 6) by Vijendra Singh, published in 2003, claims a link between measles virus and autism. According to virologists in London, Singh’s methodology was suspect and the evidence for the specific ‘anti-MMR’ antibody he identified was ‘not credible’(see Michael Fitzpatrick, MMR and Autism: What Parents Need To Know, p90).
Several studies claim to show an association between ‘autistic enterocolitis’ and autism. Of these (nos2, 3, 4, 9, 18, 19, 28) all but two feature Dr Wakefield as a co-author. Study no 9 is the work of Wakefield collaborators Arthur Krigsman and Carol Stott, published in a journal whose editors include Wakefield and Stott. Study no 28 is the work of Wakefield’s former Royal Free colleague Federico Balzola. The study by Dr Lenny Gonzalez, (no 27) a former collaborator with Wakefield at his Thoughtful House clinic in Texas, published in Venezuela, reports the extraordinary findings of autistic enterocolitis in 100% of 45 children with autism, and in 66.66% of 57 ‘developmentally normal’ controls. Apart from Wakefield and his former or current colleagues, no other researchers in the world have confirmed the existence of ‘autistic enterocolitis’ in children with autism.
Some studies suggest the presence of gastrointestinal disorders other than ‘enterocolitis’ in association with autism. These include upper gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastritis and oesophagitis (no 1, Horvath;no 10, Galiatsatos; no 20, Torrente); coeliac disease or malabsorption (no 12, Genuis;no 16, Walker-Smith;no 17, Goodwin); microbial factors other than measles (nos14, 15, 24, 25 – the Finegold, Bolte, Sandler team; and no 26 –Parracho and colleagues at Reading). Most of these studies feature small numbers of cases and two (nos 16,17) were published more than 40 yearsstudy no 10, Polymnia Galiatsatos and colleagues in Montreal, Canada report the cases of two young adults, one with colonic inflammation, the other with gastritis. Nikolov and colleagues at Yale(no 13) simply report on ‘gastrointestinal symptoms’ in association with autism.
Other studies suggest immune or autoimmune dysfunction in association with autism: Jyonuchi (nos7,8) and Singh (nos5,11). One study (no 23, Shinohe) focuses on abnormal glutamate metabolism in adults with autistic spectrum disorders. These studies do nothing to advance the vaccine-autism hypothesis.
Given that supporters of Dr Wakefield often claim that his work has been ‘independently’ replicated, it is worth pointing out that Wakefield himself is a co-author on a quarter of the studies listed here (2,3,4, 18,19, 21,22). Others (9, 20, 27,28) feature former Royal Free team members(Ashwood, Torrente, Furlano, Balzola), or subsequent collaborators (Krigsman, Stott, Gonzalez).
Those who, like me, have been following this sad story over the past 15 years, will have noticed that several authorities formerly cited in support of Wakefield’s theory seem to have fallen by the wayside.
In the early days of the MMR controversy, Wakefield often cited the studies of Rosemary Waring and Patricia D’Eufemia in support of his notion of a ‘leaky bowel’. His colleague John Walker-Smith claimed that a letter from Aderbal Sabra published in the Lancet in 1998 (about children with food allergies and ADHD) provided a ‘great public vindication’ of the work of the Royal Free team (see MMR and Autism, p143-4). Tokyo physician Hishashi Kawashima’s claims to have identified measles virus in children with autism were widely promoted – but soon discredited. In Sunderland, retired pharmacy lecturer Paul Shattock, an ardent Wakefield supporter, attracted widespread publicity for his claims to have identified distinctive urinary peptides linking MMR and autism, but his research was never published.
The most widely cited research supposedly supporting Wakefield came from his Dublin collaborator John O’Leary (published in 2002 in separate papers with Uhlmann and Shiels). This was discredited by the evidence of Stephen Bustin in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings in the USA in 2009 (see Stephen A Bustin, Why There Is no Link Between Measles Virus and Autism, DOI: 10.5772/52844).
Another study by Balzola, based on the use of the technique of ‘capsule endoscopy’ in a single (adult) case has also been dropped. It was rapidly followed by a report from another member of his team of ‘acute small bowel perforation secondary to capsule endoscopy’.
Other forgotten Wakefield supporters are the South Carolina immunologist Hugh Fudenberg, and the Florida preacher and vitamin salesman Jeffrey Bradstreet, whose dubious practices were exposed in Brian Deer’s Channel Four documentary in 2004. The father and son team of Mark and David Geier, notorious for their promotion of the ‘Lupron protocol’ of chemical castration and heavy metal chelation as a treatment for autism as well as for their shoddy researches, have also been dropped from the list of supportive researchers.
Another widely quoted ‘study’ supposedly supporting Wakefield was a poster presentation by Stephen Walker (working in collaboration with long-standing Wakefield ally Arthur Krigsman) at the IMFAR meeting in Montreal in 2006.These preliminary, provisional, unconfirmed, non-peer-reviewed findings – of measles virus in bowel biopsy specimens – in an uncontrolled study (which does not mention MMR) were widely reported – and enthusiastically acclaimed by Dr Wakefield. Walker himself disclaimed the interpretation that his work supported any link between measles and autism. This study has never been published.
In conclusion, after 15 years, we are offered 28 studies, none of which supports the MMR-enterocolitis-autism hypothesis. It is not surprising that over this period Wakefield has failed to win the support of a single paediatrician, paediatric gastroenterologist, child psychiatrist or autism specialist in England. Surely it is time to call a halt?
By Michael Fitzpatrick