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The next mito-autism case?

Posted Oct 20 2008 12:55am

It’s been nearly a year since the first autism/mitochondria case was conceded. The question of mitochondrial dysfunction and autism has evolved significantly in the minds of the public and insiders in that time.

Shortly after the concession, Tom Powers, lead attorney for the petitions was asked

.”..whether this was a possible break in the case, he replied that the particular case dealt with a claimant who had a diagnosed mitochondrial disorder. As a result, it probably won’t have much of an effect on the other cases.”

It wasn’t really on the radar for the Petitioners.

But, that was in December of 2007. In February of 2008, the concession document was leaked, followed by TV, online and print news-stories on the topic. Coincidentally, mitochondria and autism has changed from not “much of an effect on the other cases” to some people claiming as much as 1/2 of the Autism Omnibus cases being associated with mitochondria.

We’ve seen one Omnibus test case removed from the Omnibus because, the parents claim, the child’s case needs to be argued as a mitochondrial dysfunction case. We’ve gone from diagnosing mitochondrial dysfunction involving a difficult task of many tests and specialist’s opinions, to the point where David Kirby, a blogger, claims to be identifying mitochondrial dysfunction based on parental reports. We now have self-taught “experts” ready to answer questions on discussion boards about mitochondrial disorders, one of the extreme specialties of medicine.

While this is all lamentable, we now have the first “test case” for the mitochondrial autism notion, post concession. A family is arguing mitochondrial disorder (or an oxygen depletion disorder).

The case has gone through the first steps in the Court of Federal Claims (the “vaccine court”). The case hasn’t concluded, but a decision has been published. To summarize:

First, note that the parents are representing themselves, it appears. The decision notes:

On August 29, 2008, petitioners filed a Reply to the Order, making two assertions: (1) [The child] suffered from a mitochondrial disorder and oxygen depletion disorder which a later vaccination significantly aggravated, leading to autistic like symptoms (somewhat similar to the Hannah Poling case that respondent agreed to compensate); and (2) the vaccinations which [the child] received caused him mercury poisoning from thimerosal or ethyl mercury (which is the subject matter of the second round of autism cases in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, the first round of cases having to do with MMR and autism).

Tthey seem to be both arguing the mitochondrial disorder idea and the Omnibus thimerosal theory. In support, they gave no expert medical reports. Instead, they submitted a single paper (which presumably is supposed to cover both, very different assertions):

by D.S. Baskin, et al., entitled “Thimerosal Induces DNA Breaks, Caspase-3 Activation, Membrane Damage, and Cell Death in Cultured Human Neurons and Fibroblasts,” published in 74 Toxicological Sciences (2003), available on the internet.

That’s really thin evidence (as discussed at some length by the Special Master). Some sort of expert report should link the theory to the specific child. The parents state:

They have not filed a medical report in support of their assertion of significant aggravation of [the child’s] autistic like disorder, claiming that no doctor would risk criticism from the medical community by providing such a report.

Anyone want to volunteer some names of people who would risk the criticism?

But, seriously, diagnosing a mitochondrial disorder is not a simple task. This isn’t something a parent (or David Kirby) can do by looking for similar markers to another case. Heck, it isn’t as though all the biomarkers for the conceded case are universally accepted by mitochondrial experts.

With such little support for the case, the Special Master was forced to conclude:

Petitioners have still not proved their assertion of significant aggravation.

Basically, the decision ends with a statement that the family has not made its case, but they have a chance to come back with a status report as to what their intentions are.

They have already signaled a possible intention:

Petitioners express an interest in suing civilly.

This case is built on even thinner evidence than most internet-discussion-group claims. At least with those, there are challenge tests, porphyrin tests or some other questionable test, together with the opinion of the doctor who ordered the questionable tests to support an idea of “mercury poisoning” or some such diagnosis. But here, we seem to have: the child is autistic, therefore it is mercury and/or mitochondrial disorder aggravated by vaccines.

The Special Master gave the family information on how to contact a lawyer familiar with the vaccine court. I hope, for their sake, they did. I doubt it will have much of an effect on their case, but at least they would have some advice as they move forward to civil court—where the expenses will be charged to the family.

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