Critics of MMR vaccines say Danish researcher’s alleged fraud casts doubt on studies refuting connection between shots and autism
A Danish autism researcher is being investigated by police for defrauding an estimated 10 million kroner from Aarhus University while he was employed there.
Dr. Poul Thorsen, one of the researchers involved in two well-known autism reports that appeared in the influential New England Journal of Medicine, was accused of fraud last month by the university and East Jutland Police have now got involved in the case.
Thorsen resigned on Tuesday from his position in the US as adjunct professor at Drexel University in Philadephia, Pennsylvania in the wake of the investigation.
Thorsen’s fraud charges stem from the time of the reports, when he was employed at Aarhus University. Police are currently investigating the disappearance of around 10 million kroner from grants given to it by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used to help fund the autism project.
According to Aarhus University, Thorsen was in charge of appropriating the funds from the CDC. In addition to the fraud charges, Thorsen was allegedly working for Emory University in the US since 2003 in violation of his contract at Aarhus University.
The timing of the investigation and Thorsen’s resignation from Drexel coincide with a US Court of Federal Claims last Friday, which ruled against parents asserting that the MMR vaccines were responsible for their children’s health problems.
Two Danish studies from 2002 and 2003 are at the heart of that issue because they are widely referred to by groups refuting the vaccine connection and are considered to be among the most comprehensive studies ever done on the subject. A spokesman for the US Surgeon General’s Office called the reports’ conclusions that no connection exists ‘irrefutable’.
The issue has been one of heated controversy in the US between two opposing sides – the more powerful one that supports the research and the one that believes many more studies need to be done in the area.
The first report was based on studies of over 500,000 children born in Denmark from 1991 through 1998. The study indicated conclusively that there was no connection between measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines and autism.
The other report used a much smaller group in its study but came to the same conclusion.
US Senator Robert Kennedy Jr. has been the most high-profile person to question the acceptance of the studies’ results, ruffling feathers within the pharmaceutical industry, the medical profession and with other politicians. Kennedy came out this week to say that if Thorsen is found guilty of fraud then it would cast serious doubt on the validity of both studies.
Numerous internet-based autism groups have also indicated that Thorsen’s research should be considered compromised if he is convicted.
Two other scientists behind the Danish reports, Mads Melbye of Statens Serum Institut and Kreesten Meldgaard Madsen of Aarhus University Hospital, told the Philadelphia Enquirer newspaper that Thorsen was only one researcher in the groups behind the studies and had little or no influence on the ultimate conclusions.
Denmark ceased to use mercury-based substances in its vaccines in 1992. However, autism cases continue to rise here as well, although the percentage continues to be far under that of children in the US.
Many experts also say that the increase can be partly explained by the fact that more doctors are now recognising the disorder.