Despite Setbacks, Autism-Vaccine Research Continues


Courtesy: Thoughful House Center for Children

The recent Supreme Court ruling shielding pharmaceutical companies from vaccine injury liability is a devastating blow for countless families who have fought many years attempting to link their children’s autism to vaccinations. While the decision was entirely predictable, it should be emphasized that much more research is still needed before vaccine manufacturers get a free pass and we completely shut the door on the autism-vaccine debate. 

Additionally, the disgracing of Andrew Wakefield is purported to have ended the controversy once and for all, but it has only served as a distraction from the fact that previous studies have primarily focused on the safety of individual vaccines, not on the interaction between the vaccines and their synergistic possibilities, particularly in vulnerable scenarios such as premature births or low birth weight.

Fortunately, such research is currently ongoing, undertaken by the Thoughtful House Center for Children in Austin, Texas, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with developmental disabilities. While Dr. Wakefield at one point contributed to the study, he resigned from the center in February, 2010.

Led by Dr. Laura Hewitson, A primate model of gut, immune, and central nervous system interaction in response to childhood vaccines began in 2002 as a 5-year collaborative study with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh to assess the role of childhood vaccinations in regressive autism. Using the Rhesus Macaque (Rhesus Monkey) as the most appropriate non-human primate model, researchers explored the neurodevelopmental, gastrointestinal and immunologic effects of combined infant vaccine regimens. This model was able to uniquely provide insights into disease mechanisms and causes, with the ability of being transferred to subsequent studies on treatment and prevention.

Because of the success of the pilot study, the second phase is already in progress. Working in collaboration with The University of Washington in Seattle, researchers are honing in on which vaccines or vaccine combinations result in behavioral and gastrointestinal impairments in infant male monkeys to try and identify any synergistic effects. The projected completion of the study is sometime in 2012.

Here are the results of the Phase One study:

Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: influence of gestational age and birth weight

Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants: A pilot study

Thoughtful House is to be commended for advancing our knowledge of vaccines with the end-goal of making them safer. Dr. Wakefield’s previous involvement should have no bearing on the outcome and in fact, any findings will surely be heavily scrutinized, helping to maintain the integrity of the results.

Whatever one’s opinion is on the autism-vaccine controversy, the quest for the truth should be the primary objective and research should not be clouded by biased reports from the media or elsewhere. Additionally, more studies are needed by organizations and researchers that do not have a vested interest in the outcome of the results, whether positive or negative. We owe our children and future generations nothing less.

7 Responses to Despite Setbacks, Autism-Vaccine Research Continues

  1. Whatever one’s opinion is on the autism-vaccine controversy, the quest for the truth should be the primary objective and research should not be clouded by biased reports from the media or elsewhere.

    Indeed. “Elsewhere” in this case would be places like Thoughtful House, Age of Autism, etc.

    More research needs to be done on the causes of autism spectrum disorders, but the question of whether vaccines have any connection to autism is entirely settled. There is none.

    That’s not biased media reporting. It’s not pharmaceutical company PR. It’s the scientific consensus, supported by a decade or more of studies, research, and epidemiological evidence.

    The Hewitson study is a pointless, poorly-designed, and unconvincing piece of work that has been thoroughly dismantled by critics:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=6088

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/some_monkey_business_in_autism_research_1.php

    Please stop trying to divert our limited resources from research that might actually produce some useful progress into this Quixotic and fanatical effort to manufacture a reason to be afraid of vaccines. It’s retarding the struggle to find the causes of autism, and it kills children.

  2. Susan says:

    Central to my belief that vaccine research must continue is the fact that no one has yet completed a study of the interactions of various vaccines on the intensified schedule of doses. If nothing else this could serve as the final rule out, and should be pursued if for no other reason than that. I fail to see this as tilting at windmills or an unworthy, child killing adventure, and I am by no stretch of the imagination a fanatic.

    Susan Moffitt

  3. That study has been done, and there is no effect:

    On-time Vaccine Receipt in the First Year Does Not Adversely Affect Neuropsychological Outcomes – PEDIATRICS (doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2489)

    Your belief is supported only by your emotional commitment to it, not by evidence. The data is in, and it’s quite plain that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism.

    Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to prove a negative. This article by Prof. Steven Hales of Bloomsburg University in Pensylvania explains it nicely. Here’s part of his conclusion:

    So why is it that people insist that you can’t prove a negative? I think it is the result of two things. (1) an acknowledgement that induction is not bulletproof, airtight, and infallible, and (2) a desperate desire to keep believing whatever one believes, even if all the evidence is against it. That’s why people keep believing in alien abductions, even when flying saucers always turn out to be weather balloons, stealth jets, comets, or too much alcohol. You can’t prove a negative! You can’t prove that there are no alien abductions! Meaning: your argument against aliens is inductive, therefore not incontrovertible, and since I want to believe in aliens, I’m going to dismiss the argument no matter how overwhelming the evidence against aliens, and no matter how vanishingly small the chance of extraterrestrial abduction.

    The chances that there’s a connection between autism and vaccines have been shown to be vanishingly small. That negative has been proven.

  4. Susan says:

    With all due respect, my beliefs are driven by a quest for truth, not emotionality, and even in scientific circles the matter is not settled.
    We could do point/counterpoint doctor by doctor, but it’s a fruitless venture.

    I understand that questioning modern medicine is like questioning someone’s religion, that modern medicine is the religion of health. But I have had an overabundance of personal experiences in which the certitude of doctors shut down their intellectual curiosity and clouded their judgement to the point of endangering their patients. And one would be hard pressed to hold pharmaceutical companies out as beacons of morality in our society.

    What if the Thoughtful House study that you decry as wasteful and unnecessary reveals that changes can be made to render our vaccines more safe and effective??

    If the vaccines and their schedule are models of perfection in all regards right now, great, but if Thoughtful House finds otherwise, we should thank rather than vilify them.

    Susan Moffitt

  5. Jay Johnson says:

    There are no facts to connect autism to vaccines. There is a wealth of evidence that vaccines have saved and continue to save lives. The problem I see with institutions is that they they have a hidden agenda.

    And Susan, the difference between modern science and religion is that while religion is infallible, modern science is not and when new facts come to light, the field changes. Bad comparison.

  6. Susan says:

    You misunderstand my meaning. I mean religion and modern medicine are both monolithic forces in people’s lives and that questioning either one or both is extremely threatening to people’s core beliefs and values.

    I have never taken an anti-vaccine position. I have only said that I support further research into them. If that research yields ways in which vaccines and/or their delivery should be improved, what is there to object to in that?

    As for modern science being infallible, my personal experience has proven that doctors’ certitude in their own infallibly can place their patient in peril. (Without belaboring what I reference, you can find that story in my article “Autism, Allergies, and Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Return from the Brink”).

    I understand that science adapts with discoveries, but I also realize that it is a tumultuous rite of passage, not a smooth and speedy transition.

  7. Ross Coe says:

    These people who seem convinced there are no facts to connect vaccines to autism are merely giving a worthless opinion. Anyone with the great equalizer, the World wide web, can find facts if they try. It is a complex issue, and a complex condition, but there is collaborative study, and vaccine court judgments that support contentions that vaccines can damage and cause the conditions that cause autism. Denialist must find it a convenience to say there are no facts, but that only exposes one of their opinion’s short commings.

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