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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Medical Institute Set to Determine if Vaccines Really Cause Autism

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For those parents of autistic children who believe there is a connection, there is a lot at stake. The current U.S. policy is to encourage timely immunizations. As a result, state authorities generally ban children from attending public schools unless they have been immunized. Some states also charge parents with child neglect and/or abuse if they fail to have their children immunized.

There is no clear evidence to establish a link between vaccination and autism. But over the past three years, the notion has gained broad support, thanks in large part to a handful of researchers. These researchers allegedly have documented a time-based association between the onset of autism and the administration of a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).

The diagnosis of autism often occurs around age 2, when the MMR vaccine is administered. There also has been an apparent increase in the incidence of autism since the introduction of the MMR vaccine. These associations spurred some researchers to look for a possible link.

Chief among those is British researcher Andrew Wakefield, MD, an expert in bowel diseases at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London. In 1998, Wakefield sparked the debate by publishing a paper outlining the time-based association and hypothesizing that the MMR vaccine may trigger autism by causing bowel damage.

A damaged bowel would fail to properly filter dietary products in the gut and, in effect, allow toxic materials to be distributed in the brain, Wakefield explained.

Since then, his theory has inspired other researchers to pursue the link between MMR and autism. Among that group is Vijendra Singh, PhD, a research professor at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

"Based upon my research, there is a good possibility that the MMR vaccine might be the culprit," Singh tells WebMD.

His research shows that up to 80% of autistic children have antibodies triggered by the measles virus that also appear to attack a particular protein in the brain, Singh explains. Therefore, it is conceivable that the MMR vaccine may be responsible because it exposes the child to the virus, Singh says. It also is not inconceivable that those children with bowel damage would be more susceptible because their brains would be exposed to a higher level of that virus, he says.

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