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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Chelation Study for Autism Called Off

Controversial Trial Too Risky, Panel Says
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A Chelation Death Reported continued...

In the statement released yesterday, NIMH officials noted that approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was needed to proceed with the trial. But NIMH will not ask the DHHS to review the study protocol, a process that could take as long a year.

"Given the time and resources required for this additional approval process, NIMH has decided to use its intramural program to test other interventions for autism and will not pursue the required DHHS review," the statement reads.

Physician Paul Offit, MD, who this month published a book that is critical of alternative treatments, applauds the NIMH decision.

"None of the biological and epidemiological data support the notion that mercury from the thimerosal in vaccines causes autism," he tells WebMD. "So you could argue that this study was unethical because there was no biological basis for doing it."

In his book Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, Offit examines many past and present alternative treatments for autism.

He tells WebMD that none of the treatments has held up to scientific scrutiny, but many remain popular because parents have few other places to turn.

"Classical Western medicine does not offer much for the treatment of autism," he says. "These fringe therapies have appeal because there is not much else out there."

Offit adds that very young children with mild symptoms of autism often get better on their own later in childhood, which may explain why many parents believe so strongly that alternative treatment work.

"There is a natural wax and wane with this disorder," he says. "Symptoms that seem very bad between the ages of 2 and 5 may get much better between the ages of 6 and 10."

He adds that promising, conventional research on autism gets little attention because of the focus on alternative therapies.

He cites as an example the identification of the specific genes and genetic mutations associated with autism.

"This may well lead to treatments in the future, but you never hear about this kind of study because the anti-vaccine people have taken this story hostage to the detriment of children with autism," he says.

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