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David Kirby on mitochondral autism

Posted Dec 02 2008 1:51am

Over the last few months David Kirby has been talking about a new paper that would be forthcoming that would postulate a link between autism and vaccines via Mitochondrial disease. He claimed to have some inside knowledge of this due to interviewing one of the co-authors.

That co-author was Richard Kelley and that paper has indeed been published prompting another excited flurry of posts from David on the Huffington Post. I know it was Richard Kelley as I’ve also been conversing with Dr Kelley via email. Following David’s initial post on the subject several months ago, amongst many other things Dr Kelley expressed:

...furor and frustration that we all feel right now is due to the very poor way in which this has been handled by several people each trying to claim an undeserved 15 minutes of fame.

It was easy to tell that here was a man who was immensely angry but was determined not to discuss any results – possible or actual – until they had gone through the rigour of peer review.

A day or so ago David published a post about this new study but I have to say that in my lowly opinion it left quite a lot unsaid and inflated the significance of what it did say.

David made much of key sentences of this paper ( Cherry picking ) and really the overall importance of it was a bit sidelined. For example, David says:

[This paper tackles]..The widespread misconception that Hannah’s case was “unique,” and without any bearing on other autism cases…

Whereas, the actual paper states:

Recently, there has been increased concern regarding a possible causative role of vaccinations in autistic children with an underlying mitochondrial cytopathy. For one of our 25 patients, the child’s autism/neurodevelopmental deterioration appeared to follow vaccination. Although there may have been a temporal relationship of the events in this case, such timing does not prove causation.

That one patient was, of course, Hannah Poling. Now, if there was ever ‘widespread misconception’ that mitochondrial autism was real (which I don’t believe there was) then this paper certainly adds weight to the argument that it exists. However, if David is trying to claim that this paper indicates that autism caused by vaccine fuelled mitochondrial disease is not unique to Hannah Poling then I think he has misunderstood or misread it. One out of twenty-five is pretty much the definition of uniqueness.

David then goes on to claim that this study gives weight to the claim that regressive autism is real. As it happens I agree with that. However, it should be placed in its proper context. David states:

Nearly all of the children in my book regressed into autism – a process that often began almost immediately after receiving multiple vaccinations.

Perhaps that is why the very idea of regressive autism has been cause for derision among many scientists, who insist that the parents were simply too ignorant to “notice” autism symptoms in their children earlier on.

That is, with due respect to David, simplistic and not representative of either data, or testimony. During the Autism Omnibus hearings, Professor Sander Greenland gave testimony (for the petitioners it should be noted) that clearly demonstrated that such scientists as Eric Fombonne clearly accept that regression exists and can possibly account for 28% of autism cases. Thats not exactly science being derisive of parents ideas about regression. However, it must be evaluated on a scientific case-by-case basis. As also testified to during the Autism Omnibus proceedings, parents who thought their child (Michelle Cedillo) had regressed were clearly shown to be in error when video evidence demonstrated obvious indicators of autism prior to vaccination.

However, David suggests that ‘nearly all’ the children in his book were regressive following vaccination. As Greenland showed during testimony. At most, this group of ‘clearly regressive autistics’ (autistic people who allegedly regressed following vaccines) could – at most – account for 6% of all ASD cases. If we take the numbers down to the sort of ‘low functioning only’ cases that I have heard many autism/vaccine believers in then we are down to 2% of all autism cases. This translates to approx 11,200 0 – 21 year olds in America. How this number constitutes an autism epidemic I have no idea.

David goes on:

Most of the children in my book – and Hannah Poling as well – had rather severe physical, biomedical problems associated with their regression. Again, this claim has been met with scorn by many in the medical and science communities, who say that autism is much more of a behavioral/neurological than biomedical condition. Parents and doctors who do try to treat these physical symptoms – with conventional and alternative therapies alike – are singled out for particular damnation by many of these so-called experts.

Firstly, I very much doubt that any parent who is treating a childs illness with conventional therapy has been scorned by anyone. There is however, no epidemiology that associates autism per se with the mainly toxicological and/or gastric issues most biomed parents talk about. The paper states:

Twenty-one patients (84%) had histories of major non-neurological medical problems, most commonly of the gastrointestinal system, with gastroesophageal reflux affecting nine and constipation affecting eight subjects.

The other ‘major non-neurological’ were things already associated with autism or other developmental disorders such as Prader Wili.

Lets also note that none of the symptoms listed by David would be treatable by chelation for example.

This study found 64% had GI dysfunction. This is very high and warrants further study, no doubt about that but…what relation has this to vaccines?

The claim that vaccines cause GI dysfunction revolves around the MMR hypothesis – a hypothesis that has taken an absolute battering of late. It has been established in clinical science that the findings of Wakefield et al cannot be replicated and the original findings that indicated a link were based on corrupt data. Of all the various vaccine hypotheses this is by far the weakest.

There is also the fact that the GI Symptoms listed in the study are common amongst a whole range of Mitochondrial diseases and thus its hard to see what particular significance they have to mitochondrial autism.

David goes on:

“Recently, there has been increased concern regarding a possible causative role of vaccinations in autistic children with an underlying mitochondrial cytopathy (cellular disorder),” the authors wrote. “For one of our 25 patients [Hannah, who DOES have autism, contrary to claims by Gerberding, Offit et al, who erroneously insisted, without ever meeting the child, that she only had “features” of autism], the child’s autism/neurodevelopmental deterioration appeared to follow vaccination. Although there may have been a temporal relationship of the events in this case, such timing does not prove causation.”

Maybe not – but one must wonder, then, why medical personnel at HHS ’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program conceded that the “cause” of Hannah’s “autistic encephalopathy” was “vaccine induced fever and immune stimulation that exceeded metabolic reserves.”

Inserts are David’s.

Lots of things to cover here. Firstly, David says “VACCINES MAY PLAY A ROLE whereas the study authors say: “..the child’s autism/neurodevelopmental deterioration appeared to follow vaccination. Although there may have been a temporal relationship of the events in this case, such timing does not prove causation.”

I think its pretty clear that the study authors are – at best – dubious that vaccines played a role. They are simply saying what the rest of us have always said: correlation does not equal causation.

David once again insists that HHS medical personnel “conceded that the “cause” of Hannah’s “autistic encephalopathy” was “vaccine induced fever and immune stimulation that exceeded metabolic reserves.”“


I asked twice in the comment thread that followed where this HHS document was and if we, the general public, could read for ourselves – and in context – these words. I am not suggesting David is lying at all. However, by his own admission David has been wrong more than once on what were previously firmly held opinions. This is nothing that should be being speculated about. We need to see this document.

Lastly, Gerberding, Offit et al were quite right to use the phrase ‘features of autism’. That is the phrase that both the HHS report and the case study (co-authored Jon Poling) used. Some say it is hair splitting but I don’t believe that saying someone has autism is the same as saying someone has features of autism. I’ve expounded on this before for those interested but suffice it to say I have a similar eye colour to Clive Owen. This doesn’t make me Clive Owen (much to my wife’s disappointment).

David goes on:

When I first reported this story, the researcher I spoke to told me there had been 30 children in the study, and two of them (8%) showed signs of brain injury from vaccines. Of the five children since excluded from the final published review, one must have been the second vaccine-related regression.

I very much think David might have been incorrect about that. I’m reasonably sure that Dr Kelley would not have referred to ‘brain injury from vaccines’. Given that the study he has just put his name to has cast doubt on that idea I don’t think its a valid idea.

There follows a series of what can only be called strawmen- this study didn’t do this, didn’t do that etc. For example:

....we now find out that nine of the children (36%) had so-called “multiple regressions,” and nothing in this review indicates that any attempt was made to determine if vaccines, febrile infections, or some other factors acted as triggers in the subsequent regressive episodes.

But in the sentence immediately before that David says:

Most of the children had regressed following illness-induced fever, the doctor told me.

The answer to the ‘question’ is right there. One regression, two regressions, twelve regressions – the Doctor states that regression followed illness-induced fever. In other words, given that these doctors know what caused the regressions why would it be necessary to look for something else? Something else that the authors have stated fairly clearly they don’t see any evidence for. However, as befits scientists discussing something both fairly new and of large public interest, they are careful:

Large, population-based studies will be needed to identify a possible relationship of vaccination with autistic regression in persons with mitochondrial cytopathies.

Thats fair enough I think. However I also think its going to be difficult. Sander Greenland made it very clear that detecting the hypothetical ‘clear;y regressive autism’ (i.e. autism caused by vaccines) was going to be next to impossible in large population-based studies, stating the the case amount was so small it would be pretty much undetectable by epidemiology. How to perform the kind of studies necessary to prove/disprove a relationship in such a small amount I have no idea. We’re basically trying to prove that vaccines trigger a mitochondrial cytopathy that leads to autism in – no matter what David thinks – is a pretty small group of people:

28% of people have a regressive form of autism. In 2003 at a LADDERS conference in Boston, Kelley postulated that 20% of regressive autism is due to mitochondrial cytopathies. CDC says that approx 560,000 of autistic people in the US are between 0 – 21. Therefore 28% of 560,000 = 156,800. 20% of 156,000 = 31,360. That’s about 5.6% of autistic children.

Rare? Not sure. Common? Hardly.

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