|By Liz Fink for the Spectator
The past 20 years have seen a surge in the number of children with autism but few corresponding funding increases to study the disorder. But thanks to an October 2003 grant, the Autism Birth Cohort, a joint project of Columbia University and the Norwegian government, is now one of the largest research studies on autism in history.The number of children with autism–a chronic neurological disorder
that impairs communication and social interaction–has increased from
approximately one in 1,000 to one in 150, and no one can conclusively say
“The frequency of this disorder is likely to be increasing … it’s an area that has deserved a great deal more emphasis than it has had for a long time,” said Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of the Autism Birth Cohort and a professor at the School of Public Health.
The Cohort is a broad-based epidemiological study that uses new
A government attempt to free chemical companies from liability for
Preliminary research indicated a relationship between prenatal and infant
While the ensuing scandal caused the provision to be scrapped in January 2002, thimerosal’s relationship to autism remains unclear.
“People just want this issue to go away,” said Dr. Mady Hornig, an
Thimerosal is one of the many possible toxic and infectious agents whose effects the Autism Birth Cohort will examine. The Cohort will follow over 75,000 Norwegian expectant mothers and their children, analyzing their medical records, blood samples, and survey questionnaires in order to
New technology will allow for intensified study into gene expression
“I know that sounds very trivial, but this is basically the turning
Early DNA collection is nothing revolutionary because an
Hornig’s research with mice helped demonstrate a link between
Research on mice is less complex than on humans for many reasons,
Finding a conclusive single specific cause of autism is extremely unlikely despite Hornig’s initial findings about thimerosal.
“We think it is unlikely to be a singular environmental factor” that causes autism, Hornig said. Autism itself is understood to be a spectrum of disorders, increasing the “difficulty in teasing out this complexity.”
Despite the lack of a definite link, Hornig’s findings in mice have caused her to question the use of thimerosal in vaccines. Thimerosal is not actually a necessary component of vaccines: it serves only as an anti-microbial preservative for multi-dose vials. Today it is largely found in flu shots and older vaccinations.
“There is no legitimate reason other than cost” to use this additive, Hornig said, adding that at an additional cost of approximately four dollars a vial manufacturers could simply produce single-dose packages and eliminate thimerosal entirely.
The issue is hotly political, however, and it is unlikely policy and health officials will reach a consensus on thimerosal in the near future. Rejecting research like Hornig’s, the Center for Disease Control Web site states, “No harmful effects have been reported from thimerosal at doses used in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness or swelling at the reaction site.”
Despite the clarity of their conclusions, the CDC does say no vaccines used on preschool children against infectious diseases contain thimerosal.
This is significant because children generally begin exhibiting signs of
“This is the Autism Birth Cohort project, but it’s really much, much