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Researchers Reject Famous MMR-Autism Study

Experts Say Likely to Close the Door on MMR Vaccine Controversy
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Conflict of Interest Casts Doubt on Findings continued...

"We regret that aspects of funding for parallel and related work and the existence of ongoing litigation that had been known during clinical evaluation of the children reported in 1998 Lancet paper were not disclosed to editors," writes Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, in an editorial that accompanies the retraction.

Horton says that if the editorial board and editors had known then what they know now, it would have affected their decision to publish the study.

Retraction Likely to Close the Door on MMR Controversy

The 1998 study did not prove an association between MMR and autism, but concluded that, "further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine."

Since the Wakefield study was published, several major studies -- including a report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine -- have examined the issue and found no proof of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

"The positive side, if there is a positive side to that publication, is that it caused the public health community both here and in the U.K. to focus very closely on the issue of vaccine safety," says David Neumann, PhD, executive director of the National Partnership for Immunization.

"Since that publication in 1998, there have been any number of studies here and overseas that have looked at the relationship between vaccines and autism and autism spectrum disorders," Neumann tells WebMD, "and the epidemiological studies have consistently shown no linkage between vaccine use and the development of neurological changes."

Samuel Katz, MD, who helped develop the measles vaccine currently in use, says he'd be surprised if the retraction didn't shut the door on the MMR-autism controversy.

"I can't imagine that it doesn't totally exonerate MMR," says Katz, who is also professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Duke University.

Neumann agrees, but takes a more pragmatic approach.

"There is segment of population here in the U.S. that is skeptical about using vaccines, and the Wakefield articles and others of that type have reinforced their impressions," says Neumann. "Yet though that the paper has now been discounted, and the authors have retracted their findings, the public health community will constantly be challenged by those findings over the coming years by people who fail to understand the science or appreciate the issues with that report."

But Neumann says the bottom line is that autism is a serious disease and deserves further research to understand what it is and how to treat it. In light of recent events, he says, ''to continually invest in research trying to find an association between vaccine use and autism isn't probably a good use of those resources."

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