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Autism Speaks Announces Grants to Study Environmental Risks for Autism

By September 23, 2008

Autism Speaks is a very large, very controversial non-profit agency. Yesterday, Autism Speaks announced 12 grants totally "$3.6 million to investigate environmental risk factors for autism." Detailed descriptions of each research project are available at the Autism Speaks website.

Topics to be investigated include:

  • Possible implications of folic acid supplementation (which has increased over time, particularly for pregnant women);
  • Possible implications of a widely used chemical called Bisphenol A, an ingredient in some plastics;
  • Possible implications of a Vitamin D deficiency in mothers and children;
  • Altered immune function in fetuses during development ("Dr. Nicholas Ponzio from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will be examining how T cells and cytokines function in the brain and the placenta, as well as how they affect the developing fetus.")
Autism Speaks will also be funding several studies which look specifically at the possible impact of mercury and vaccines on developing brains:
Dr. Judy Van de Water at the University of California at Davis is partnering with Vanderbilt University researchers to study how changes in the expression of the MET gene, shown to be associated with autism, regulate maternal autoantibody production. Of importance, this study will also examine how environmental toxicant exposure, including ethylmercury (the major component of thimerosal) as well as a common environmental toxicant BDE-47, influences cytokine production. ...

Three projects will focus on the potential role of vaccines, specifically the role of ethylmercury or other vaccine components. These include a project by Dr. Flavio Keller at the University Bio-Medica in Rome, who will study the behavioral and pathological effects of ethyl and methyl mercury on a strain of mice that possess a certain mutation in order to examine gene and environment interactions. Dr. Mark Noble from the University of Rochester will use a genetically modified cell line to study the effects of ethylmercury and aluminum hydroxide on oxidative potential. Finally, Dr. David Baskin from Methodist Hospital in Houston will study cell proliferation in response to thimerosal exposure.

As an interested non-scientist, it seems to me that the first few studies - those addressing folic acid, vitamin D, and bisphenol A - all have the potential to make a real difference for people now living with autism. If, in fact, it turns out that a little extra time in the sun could truly make the difference for thousands living with autism - then all power to the Vitamin D Council! If we find that too much folic acid - recommended to mothers-to-be as a way to prevent birth defects, is causing an autism epidemic - well, I suppose we'll have a replay of the thalidomide catastrophe, but we'll also see the end of the rise in autism diagnoses.

But as regards the studies that focus on the contents of vaccines, I would ask that those better versed in research protocols make a comment. Are mice studies really helpful in parsing out the impact of vaccines on human infants? How useful will these studies be in taking steps forward in the process of understanding and managing autism?

September 23, 2008 at 11:13 am
(1) stan says:

These grants sound like valuable contributions to the field. But I am disappointed not to see 2 study grants in particular:
(1) the potential link between EMF fields and autism; and
(2) the potential link between prenatal ultrasound applications and early developmental effects.

One study has already concluded that EMFs can act to help keep heavy metals locked in cells; and there is sufficient evidence already to suspect the heat of ultrasounds to be affecting foetal brain development. Both are excellent subjects for further study – and should have been researched in-depth long ago. for their likely environmental impact. We’re getting there, but all too slowly.

September 23, 2008 at 12:22 pm
(2) m says:

I am flabbergasted that you would fail to see the significance of a mice model. Questioning the validity of a mice model but not questioning statistical, population based studies reveals your ignorance of what is experimental science and what is not. (It also reveals that you’ve been indoctrinated by medical authorities to hold a prejudice against any evaluation of a causative role for vaccines in autism without critically assessing those beliefs.)

Autism Speaks has made, IMO, a very good decision. Scientific studies are supposed to be about being open to questions, and here they have asked that we move beyond statistical models of the population and examine real biological models that could reveal a very small, biologically vulnerable sub-population that may be affected by vaccines. They are leaving the question open and becoming more experimental with their questions. Those are excellent decisions. It does not mean AS believes there is a vaccine question. It means they are moving closer to putting the issue to a real test and answering it, whether yes or no, for good.

September 23, 2008 at 3:15 pm
(3) autism says:

M – I opened the question because I’m not familiar with just how useful a mouse model is likely to be in studying the impact of vaccines on human infants. I’ve seen a number of mouse model research studies come up, and interesting observations made – but so far am not aware of any concrete “pedal to the metal” outcomes.

to be honest, though, it seems pretty clear that there IS a “a very small, biologically vulnerable sub-population that may be affected by vaccines.” If there weren’t, there would be no need for a vaccine court, or for the type of protections against suit now available to pharmaceutical companies.

the bigger question, though, is not “could vaccines cause harm in a tiny, vulnerable sub-population” (though of course that’s an important issue for those few families!). more important on the larger scale, IMHO, is a resolution of the question “what, if anything, is causing a huge rise in autism – and as a result undermining not only families but also the infrastructure of schools, state and federal agencies, and health insurance?”

Lisa (autism guide)

September 24, 2008 at 12:18 am
(4) AutismNewsBeat says:

what, if anything, is causing a huge rise in autism..

Here is a classic example of “begging the question”, in which the proposition to be proved is assumed in the question. Before you go looking for a cause for the epidemic, you need to make a convincing case that there is an epidemic. To my knowledge, no one has done that.

You’re also conflating “autism” with “damage caused by vaccines”, and equating the two by the very existence of vaccine court. Huh? Not every case conceded in vaccine court involves autism. And the standard of proof set by vaccine court is deliberately low, far from the higher standard of scientific certainty.

September 24, 2008 at 12:19 am
(5) colleen strom says:


Of course mice studies are important. The fact is that most of what we learn about toxicology is revealed through this type of research. As far as your question: How useful will these studies be in taking steps forward in the process of understanding and managing autism? I’d like to address that.

If, in fact, vaccines are causing autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in babies and children, then this type of research will open the door to understanding at least part of the cause of autism. I dare not say leveling total understanding because we will still have to learn what makes each child different in causing them to be susceptible to the damage to begin with. I imagine the next place to look would be in the mitochondria, particularly since studies have shown that Thimerosal causes damage to the mitochondria.

If thimerosal or another ingredient causes that initial damage, it then sets the child up for more extensive damage when hit with several vaccines at once down the road. Obviously this can happen to a child with mitochondrial dysfunction that already exists, but it would more fully explain why so many parents state their child was fine and then fell with the later vaccines around 15 to 18 months of age.

Perhaps we will learn that there is another entirely different mechanism within the vaccines that contribute or cause autism. But the study, in answering your question, specifically becomes useful in understanding autism in a potential cause leading to prevention and possible medical care with whatever damage lies under the surface (such as mitochondrial dysfunction). That, I believe, would cover your question of how useful the studies may become in managing autism.

The pedal to the metal observation comes from studies such as Mady Hornig’s. You are right, it was basically ignored by health officials. Funny, though, how they clumped her in with all the “quack” scientists finding implications between vaccines and autism, but then they held her in such high regard that they used her for their own studies after they tried to discredit her reputation.

The very small sub population of people vulnerable to vaccines is not so small. The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that number is around 3%. (although the comment itself is somewhat sketchy since she was supposedly talking about autism but then said it was total vulnerable to vaccine injury). Three percent is not a small number. It is 3 out of each 100 people, far higher a risk than what is stated on any Vaccine Information Sheet handed to a parent by their doctors and printed by the CDC.

Which leads us to your final question, the one you state is the most important of all. What if anything is causing a huge rise in autism?

Isn’t that exactly what these studies are trying to find out?

September 24, 2008 at 5:37 am
(6) earthlingorgeous says:

Well, good luck on the autism. But really what we parents with children with autism needs is the available resource and support system that is accessible.

Autism is a human brain malfunction and nobody had dissected a human brain of someone with an autism to conclude what went wrong and probably nobody ever will do it.

October 1, 2008 at 9:33 pm
(7) AutismNewsBeat says:

The pedal to the metal observation comes from studies such as Mady Hornig’s.

Which study are you talking about? The one where she supposedly dosed mice with thimerosal and made them autistic? Didn’t happen.

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