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More Research Discredits Link Between Autism and Measles Vaccine

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In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, MD, an expert in bowel diseases at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, speculated that the MMR vaccine damages the bowel, causing autism.

Wakefield's theory: The MMR vaccine damages the bowel. A damaged bowel cannot properly digest essential vitamins and nutrients needed for normal development. A damaged bowel also would be unable to filter out toxic materials that could harm the brain.

Other researchers now say that they too have established that autistic children have a larger number of antibodies to measles in their brains than their peers, suggesting that the MMR vaccine may travel to the brain where it could cause further damage.

Among those researchers is Vijendra Singh, PhD, a research professor at Utah State University in Logan.

"Based upon my research, there is a good possibility that the MMR vaccine might be the culprit," Singh told WebMD in a recent interview. "I cannot conclusively say that I have found a fundamental cause. But this is good science. It should not be ignored."

The majority of experts disagree. The mainstream thought is that the increase in reported cases of autism is due to experts' recent adoption of a broader definition of the disorder rather than the introduction of the MMR vaccine.

Although the diagnosis usually is made shortly after the vaccine is administered, trained experts frequently can make the diagnosis at a much earlier age, Paul Offit, MD, chief of infectious disease at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, tells WebMD.

Although the California study does not address why that state is suffering from a rise in autism cases, the findings can still be generalized because this study duplicated the results of similar studies conducted elsewhere, such as in the U.K., Dales says.

"All of these studies have found the same results. So it sounds like these results can be generalized," he tells WebMD.

The California study, though, is unlikely to convince all the critics of the vaccine, some of whom believe that U.S. health authorities have decided to ignore this connection because of the vaccine's perceived benefits.

The CDC maintains that the MMR vaccine is of significant benefit. In just one decade, the agency says, the MMR vaccine has managed to reduce the number of measles cases from more than 27,000 a year to a mere 100 a year. During that time frame, the number of reported deaths also has decreased from more than 50 a year to none, the agency says.

Still, the view that these benefits do not justify ignoring the possible connection between the vaccine and autism has engendered some powerful allies. Among those is U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, (R-Indiana), whose grandson is autistic.

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