Archive for January, 2011

Dr. Paul Offit will be on The Colbert Report to speak about his new book, “Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”.

The Colbert Report will air on Comedy Central, January 31st at 11:30 EST (Dr. Offit’s interview will take place toward the end of the program).

All of Dr. Offit’s proceeds for “Deadly Choices” will go to benefit the Autism Science Foundation.

“A medical crisis has come to America. Diseases of our grandparents’ generation are making a deadly comeback as more and more parents choose not to vaccinate their children. How did this happen? Who is responsible? And what can be done to reverse this unconscionable assault upon our nation’s public health? For the answers, provided in clear, common sense, page-turning fashion, I recommend Deadly Choices by Dr. Paul Offit—a timely and courageous call to arms by the nation’s foremost expert on pediatric infectious disease.”- David Oshinsky, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Polio: An American Story

Paul A. Offit, MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is a recipient of many awards including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics bestowed by the University of Maryland Medical School and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Offit has published more than 130 papers in medical and scientific journals and is a founding board member of the Autism Science Foundation.

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Funds will enable parents and others to attend the leading autism research conference

The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding autism research, today announced that it is offering a limited number of grants to parents of children with autism and other stakeholders to support attendance at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), to be held in San Diego, May 12-14, 2011. Awards of up to $1000 can be used to cover registration, travel, accommodations, meals and other directly related expenses, including childcare or special accommodations to enable individuals with autism to participate.

IMFAR is an annual scientific meeting, convened each spring, to promote, exchange and disseminate the latest scientific findings in autism research and to stimulate research progress in understanding the nature, causes, and treatments for autism spectrum disorders. IMFAR is the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR).

“We are thrilled to be able to offer this program again this year and to give back to the autism community in a research-focused way,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “Last year’s award recipients took what they learned at IMFAR and brought it back to their communities in very creative, effective ways.”

To apply, send a letter to grants@autismsciencefoundation.org describing why you want to attend IMFAR and explaining how you would share what you learn there with the broader autism community. Letters should be sent as Microsoft Word attachments of no more than 2 pages, 12-point type, “Arial” font, with standard margins. In the subject line please write: IMFAR Grant. Letters must be received by February 28, 2011. Recipients will be announced in late March. Additional application information is available at www.autismsciencefoundation.org/ApplyForaGrant.html

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Donations to the Autism Science Foundation significantly outpaced the national Blackbaud Index of Charitable Giving, a key index that measures donations to nonprofits, in the latest reporting period. For the three months ending in November 2010, the organizations in the index saw contributions grow by just 0.3 percent compared with those same months in 2009. Autism Science Foundation’s donations increased by 9.0 percent during the same period.

“We are so grateful to our donors and supporters who continue to show confidence in our mission and programs and are choosing to increase their support of ASF, even during these very challenging economic times” said Karen London, co-founder and board member of the Autism Science Foundation.


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One quarter of American parents believe that vaccines cause autism in children. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, many parents have taken the medical advice of celebrity activist Jenny McCarthy and disgraced researcher Andrew Wakefield. Why do so many parents continue to ignore the recommendations of their pediatricians, the NIH and the CDC, the people and institutions responsible for keeping children safe? The answers lie in The Panic Virus, where author Seth Mnookin masterfully untangles facts from fiction in the autism-vaccine debate. Mnookin’s objectivity— he has no previous connections to autism, pharmaceuticals, or the science of medicine— allows his voice to resonate over this increasingly vitriolic and heart-breaking medical controversy. The Panic Virus explains how and why the anti-vaccine movement grew to prominence, exposes the misaligned incentives of several anti-vaccine figures, and denounces the culpable journalists who failed to report the truth. The Panic Virus is not just another book about autism: it descends into a world of contradiction, lies and media manipulation, from which readers emerge entertained, informed and firmly on the side of science.

Highlighted Quotes:

“We are increasingly seeing the consequences of reporting news stories that reflect ideas that are not well researched or reputable.”

“You have the same anti-science going on here as with creationism. Creationists say ‘well this is what I believe, I don’t care what your data says, this is what I believe’. Ultimately this is what people who don’t believe in vaccines also say.”

“I think one of the tragedies of all of this is that on the most fundamental level, the goals of the ASF and the goals of Autism One are the same, which is to find ways to help families dealing with autism.”

“I know one of the things at the ASF is very focused on, and I believe rightly so, is the ways in which the focus on vaccines has meant that funding has not been able to go towards other possible environmental triggers, as well as other intervention efforts research to support ways to help adults with autism, and I couldn’t agree with that more.”

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A team of researchers  using a mouse model that they created at the Seaver Autism Center for  Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have discovered  that nerve cells communicate less effectively when one copy of the SHANK3  gene is missing. Additionally, missing a copy of this gene hinders normal  nerve-cell learning processes. This finding could explain how the SHANK3  mutation may contribute to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Joseph Buxbaum,  PhD, Director of the Seaver Autism Center and Professor of Psychiatry,  Neuroscience and Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Mount Sinai School of  Medicine noted that, “Armed with this breakthrough, we can begin testing  drug compounds that treat the disease at its root cause, improving nerve  cell communication.”  The study is published in Molecular Autism.

Click here to view the abstract and to download the research paper.

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(Copyright Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2011)

Vaccines don’t cause autism-and there was never any proof that they do. Too bad kids had to die while we figured that out.

In 1998, a British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield published a paper claiming that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause autism. To support his case, Dr. Wakefield reported the stories of eight children who had developed symptoms of autism within one month of receiving MMR. He proposed that measles vaccine virus travels to the intestine, causes intestinal damage, and allows for brain-damaging proteins to enter children’s blood streams.

The problem with Dr. Wakefield’s study-published in the Lancet, a leading medical journal-was that it didn’t study the question. To prove his hypothesis, he should have examined the incidence of autism in hundreds of thousands of children who had or hadn’t received MMR. This kind of study has now been performed 14 times on several continents by many investigators. The studies have shown that MMR doesn’t cause autism.

As several different investigations-summed up in a British Medical Journal (BMJ) editorial this month-have shown, not a single aspect of Dr. Wakefield’s notion of how MMR causes autism has proven correct. He wasn’t just wrong, he was spectacularly wrong. Moreover, some of the children in his report had developed symptoms of autism before they had received the vaccine-and others never actually had autism.

In addition, as journalist Brian Deer found, Dr. Wakefield received tens of thousands of pounds from a personal-injury lawyer in the midst of suing pharmaceutical companies over MMR. (After Mr. Deer’s discovery, Dr. Wakefield admitted to receiving the money.) Last year, when the Lancet found out about the money, it retracted his paper. But it was far too late.

Dr. Wakefield’s paper created a firestorm. Thousands of parents in the United Kingdom and Ireland chose not to vaccinate their children. Hundreds of children were hospitalized and four killed by measles. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales.

Dr. Wakefield’s claim sparked a general distrust of vaccines. In recent years-as more parents chose not to vaccinate their children-epidemics of measles, mumps, bacterial meningitis and whooping cough swept across the United States. The whooping cough epidemic currently raging in California is larger than any since 1955.

Although it’s easy to blame Andrew Wakefield, he’s not the only one with dirty hands. The editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, sent Dr. Wakefield’s paper to six reviewers, four of whom rejected it. That should have been enough to preclude publication. But Mr. Horton thought the paper was provocative and published it anyway.

Many others in the media showed similar poor judgment, proclaiming Dr. Wakefield’s paper an important study even though it was merely a report of eight children that, at best, raised an untested hypothesis.

Meanwhile, public-health officials and scientists were slow to explain in clear, emphatic terms that Dr. Wakefield’s hypothesis didn’t make a bit of sense.

Even today, important voices aren’t drawing the right conclusions. The BMJ, for example, wrote in its editorial that “clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.” But it’s not Dr. Wakefield’s lapses that matter-it’s that his hypothesis was so wrong.

Even if Dr. Wakefield hadn’t been fraudulent, his hypothesis would have been no less incorrect or damaging. Indeed, by continuing to focus on Dr. Wakefield’s indiscretions rather than on the serious studies that have proved him wrong, we only elevate his status among antivaccine groups as a countercultural hero.

The American astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan once wrote that, “Extraordinary claims should be backed by extraordinary evidence.” Dr. Wakefield made an extraordinary claim backed by scant evidence. Undoubtedly, bad science will continue to be submitted for publication. Next time, one can only hope that journal editors and the media will be far more circumspect.

Dr. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is the author of “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” (Basic Books, 2011).


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The Autism Science Foundation announced today that Gregg Ireland had joined its board of directors.

Gregg Ireland is a Senior Vice President of Capital World Investors, a division of Capital Research and Management Company.  CRMC is the investment advisor for the American Funds with $1 trillion under management.  Gregg joined Capital in 1972 and has spent his entire career with the Capital organization.

Gregg holds a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Gregg serves on several nonprofit boards dealing with autism and special needs.  He is a co-founder and board member of Extraordinary Ventures, Inc., a program that provides employment and social opportunities for young adults with autism.  He previously served on the boards of the Autism Society of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute, and group home organization Residential Services, Inc.  Gregg is also a founding member of the U.S. Marines Raider Foundation. 

Raised in Southern California, Gregg resides with his wife Lori and their youngest son Vincent in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  The couple has three other adult children as well.

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