For a quick background, from mid-2005 to mid-2006, I was very active online regarding the mercury-autism debate, siding with the "mercury is likely a causal factor in some autism because some of the kids diagnosed as autistic are having some or all of their symptoms go away with the use of chelation, a medical therapy that removes heavy metals from the body, especially mercury." (And exhale... ;-) That is still my stance. No one has explained away these kids and their parents, some of which have found this blog and left their own comments. But for most of 2006 and 07, I haven't kept up with the debate at all, mostly because of increasing responsibilities and activities at Jigsaw Health.
So I was excited to hear David Kirby talk last week about the growing awareness and advancements in studies that continue to support this theory. Here's a few of the studies and topics he covered in his two hour speech. (These are my hand-scribbled notes and to the best of my knowledge, represents his lecture. If there are any mistakes or misunderstandings that I may have made, I take complete responsibility.)
From February 2007, Study: Low toxicant levels can damage brain. "Researchers find that cells will shut down when exposed to small amounts of mercury." Fascinating stuff that builds on the previous neurotoxicity studies by Boyd Haley and others. Not that this should be surprising. The article also references some recent work between by Johns Hopkins (and Harvard) that found neuro-inflammation while performing autopsies on autistic brains.
From September 2006, Environmental Health Perspectives in an NIH/CDC study in San Francisco finds that ASD kids are more likely to have been born in polluted areas. (No link.)
From March 2006, study published in Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology finds porphyrins are surplussed in the body because they aren't making heme, which is what carries oxygen in the blood. (No link. And candidly, I only have a surface level understanding of this. But from hearing Boyd Haley talk about it, this is a very significant finding.)
Kirby also made very several arguments against the "vast" amount of "evidence" (the handful of epidemiological studies) routinely cited by skeptics of the mercury/autism theory.
First, the original ("Generation Zero") Verstraten study from Nov - Dec 1999 which showed an increase in autism as the amount of thimerosal and amount of vaccines increased. This data was massaged over six or seven generations until no correlation was found. As we've learned from our "in-house" bio-statistician, RandomJohn, with enough effort, you can make data say whatever you want it to say.
Kirby put up on the big screen internal emails from Verstraten himself with a subject line of something like "The problem that just won't go away." (Problem = thimerosal.) Verstraten is now safely back in Denmark (?) where he "won't return calls from pesky reporters."
Next, the popular Denmark epidemiology study. The flaws in this one amazed me.
First, midway through the reporting years, they switched from tracking only in-patient hospital cases to tracking ALL cases.
And there was also a major new clinic that opened to deal with autism.
The chart shows reported cases of autism increasing AFTER thimerosal was removed. Better diagnosis reporting is what caused the spike. The authors of the study wrote "We may have
seriously increased apparent number of cases" referring to this change
in reporting methodology. (Yet another reason I hate arguing over epidemiological studies. Read my post On Evidence.)
Lastly, while the draft study included data from 2001 which showed incidence and prevalence dropping, that year was excluded from the final published report simply BECAUSE it showed cases dropping! And Kirby again flashed up an internal email showing these conversations.
The IOM Report, which cites both studies extensively, gave deference to epidemiology over biology.
But what about the California numbers? Rates have not dropped among kids in the 2001-03 birth cohort. Why? Well, he doesn't know for sure. But he's obviously put some thought and effort into looking at it since no drop poses a big problem for this theory.
In July 1999, the US Government made the announcement (recommendation) to remove thimerosal from vaccines, but they did not do a mandatory recall.
It's inconceivable that all pharmaceuticals companies retooled their manufacturing process overnight. It likely took 6 to 24 months or longer. So reality is that thimerosal-containing vaccines would have continued to be manufactured for quite some time.
There is a 4-year expiration on these vaccines. And sure enough, people have brought him DTAP boxes from as recent as several months ago and thimerosal is still listed as an ingredient.
Flu shots -- recommend for the elderly, pregnant women, and infants -- still contain thimerosal, or 25 micrograms of ethylmercury (as well as other toxicants ).
On the 2007 vaccination schedule, infants will receive 85 micrograms of mercury by 18 months.
While the CA data does shown an overall increase, the rate of increase is falling. It peaked in 2002.
I chatted with David Kirby after lunch for about 20 minutes. I asked him about his recent non-appearance on The View. The topic for the show was Autism and he was asked to be an expert in the audience to discuss causation. Unfortunately for viewers and audience members, possible causation was never discussed. Much like his post, he said it was the strangest thing.
We also talked a bit about a new book he's working on, and "Evidence of Harm" being picked up by Participant Productions to be made into a movie. Same company that did "An Inconvenient Truth."