From ABC 7 News:
ABC 7 Medical: Autism Vaccine
Posted: June 24, 2005 5:50 PM EST
ANGRY PARENTS HAVE MARCHED ON CAPITAL HILL, DEMANDING TO CONGRESS THAT MERCURY BE TAKEN OUT OF ALL VACCINEES.
THEY BLAME THE MERCURY THATS USED AS A PRESERVATIVE IN VACCINES FOR DAMAGING THEIR CHILD'S BRAINS.
MEDICAL REPORTER KATHY FOWLER JOINS US NOW WITH THE DETAILS.
Kathy Fowler on set:
FOR SEVEN YEARS, LEADING SCIENTISTS HAVE TOLD THESE PARENTS THAT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO LINK BETWEEN THE MERCURY IN VACCINE AND AUTISM.
BUT MORE RECENT STUDIES HAVE CHANGED THE MINDS OF SOME.
Deb Gordan: "My husband came downstarirs... and I looked at him and I said Danny's autistic... he just broke down.. he said oh so that's it."
DEB GORDAN FOUND OUT HER 3 YEAR OLD SON, DANNY WAS AUTISTIC LESS THAN A YEAR AGO... BUT TODAY SHE'S NO LONGER TREATING HIM AS AN AUTISTIC CHILD.
Deb Gordan: "Take the word autism away and just insert "poisoned by mercury" and that's how I'm going to treat my child medically."
WHEN DEB WAS PREGNANT SHE GOT A FLU VACCINE AND THEN A DAY AFTER DANNY WAS BORN HE GOT HIS FIRST VACCINE. DEB AND MANY PARENTS BELIEVE A PRESERVATIVE IN VACCINES CALLED THIMEROSAL, WHICH IS MERCURY, CAUSED DAMAGE TO THEIR CHILDRENS' BRAIN.
THE CENTER'S FOR DISEASE CONTROL SAY THERE'S NOT LINK...
Deb Gordan: "The vast majority of the scientific data does not support association of thimerosal in vaccines with autism."
AT FIRST, SCIENTISTS LIKE DR. MARK GEIER, FORMERLY FROM THE NIH, TOLD CONCERNED PARENTS THE VACCINE CONNECTION WAS RIDICULOUS...
Dr. Mark Geier: "DON'T bother us go away .. we're doing real research here."
BUT, GEIER, WHO'S RESEARCHED VACCINES SINCE THE 1970'S, DECIDED TO STUDY THE CONNECTION BECAUSE OF THE SHARP RISE IN AUTISM CASES.
INTHE 1980'S ONLY ONE IN 2500 KIDS WERE DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM... TODAY THE CDC SAYS ONE IN EVERY 166 CHILDREN ARE CONSIDERED AUTISTIC.. A 15FOLD INCREASE.
DR. GEIER DIRECTLY COMPARED VACCINES WITH THIMOEROSAL TO VACCINES WITHOUT IT IN RELATIONSHIP TO AUTISM.
Dr. Mark Geier: "We found a 6 times HIGHER increase in those that had the theimoral."
THEY ALSO TESTED AUTISTIC CHILDREN AND FOUND THEIR MERCURY LEVELS WERE OFF THE CHARTS. THEN THEY STUDIED OTHER RESEARCH DONE BY THE CENTER'S FOR DISEASE CONTROL.
Dr. Mark Geier: "It said that they found a stiatiscially icnrease risk of neurodevelopmetnal disorder following children with who go tthimeorsol adn the more thimoersaol they got - the more the increase was."
DEB, WHO'S CONVINCED HER CHILD HAS BEEN MERCURY POISONED IS RESEARCHING A NEW TREATMENT THAT DETOXES MERCURY OUT OF A CHILD'S BODY.
Deb Gordan: "I'm not giving up on him.... he's going to be okay.. mommy.. i love you."
BRITAIN HAS ALREADY BANNED THE USE OF THIMEROSAL IN VACCINES... SO HAS TWO STATES IN THE U.S. CALIFORNIA AND IOWA.
OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, THIMEROSAL HAS BEEN TAKEN OUT OF MOST CHILDHOOD VACCINES... BUT STILL REMAINS IN THE FLU AND TETNUS VACCINES.
FOR MORE INFO OF THIS TOPIC GO TO:
National Vaccine Information Center OR
Debated autism therapy gives hope to parents
Iowa boy improves with mercury-removal treatment
By TONY LEYS
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
June 26, 2005
Le Claire, Ia. - Gavin Wilken is out in his backyard, unknowingly demonstrating extraordinary accomplishments. The 6-year-old is goofing around with his little sister, Lindsey. He's talking. He's laughing. He's playing chase. Their mother, Tami Wilken, watches from the kitchen, expressing amazement at how normal Gavin seems. You should have seen him a few years ago, she says. He quit speaking. He failed to respond to his name. He would hold a pen in front of his face and spin it for hours on end.
The troubles began subtly when Gavin was 17 months old. "He started swaying in front of the wall," Wilken says. "At first, I thought, 'How cute, he's playing with his shadow.' But there was no shadow." Doctors, who at first saw nothing wrong, concluded Gavin had autism. The brain condition can rob children of their personalities, and it can tear families apart. Most doctors say they're unsure what causes autism, and they can't explain why the number of new cases has soared over the past 20 years. They have little to offer in treatment or in hope.
Tami Wilken says she knows the answers. She has joined an increasingly vocal and controversial movement of parents who believe their children's autism was sparked by mercury, which until recently was included in many vaccines as the base component of the preservative Thimerosal. Wilken has taken the belief a step further, seeking out an aggressive treatment, called chelation, to remove the metal from Gavin's body.
She knows mainstream medical leaders disagree with the theory and the treatment. "If their oath is to do no harm, why are they pushing mercury into my child but not letting me take it out?" she asks. Doctors skeptical of treatment's benefits. This spring, Gavin became one of 125 children put forward as success stories by a new national group urging parents to use chelation to relieve their children of autism. The group, Generation Rescue, has taken out full-page ads in USA Today and the New York Times, declaring that "Autism is Preventable and Curable." The effort concerns many physicians, who worry that it could make parents needlessly fearful of vaccines and that it could lead desperate families to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a treatment that they say probably doesn't help and could hurt.
Doctors often start the discussion by saying they understand why parents of autistic children are frustrated with the lack of explanation and treatment for the growing problem. Federal researchers say that between 1994 and 2003, the number of school-age children classified as having autism or related disorders exploded from 22,664 to 141,022. Official estimates say as many as one in 166 children are affected. Although many experts say that much of the jump in cases is due to more aggressive diagnosis of the condition, most agree that there also has been an actual increase.
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Iowa's state epidemiologist, says large studies have concluded there is no link between mercury and autism. "Thimerosal is not the cause of autism," she says. "Therefore, I don't think taking it out is the answer." Several European countries took the preservative out of their vaccines years ago, she says, and their autism rates continue to grow. American drug makers began removing the controversial ingredient from most of their vaccines a few years ago. "The anti-vaccine people took that as proof something was wrong," Quinlisk says. In fact, she says, the manufacturers did it because authorities feared that even baseless concerns could make parents avoid important vaccinations.
"No way it could be a coincidence"
Chelation, the treatment being used on Gavin, has been around for many years. It mainly has been used for people who have suffered from lead poisoning or industrial accidents involving heavy metals. Chelation medications are designed to bind with the metals, which the body then can excrete. Possible side effects include loss of helpful minerals, such as zinc and iron. Gavin has been taking various forms of the treatment for four years . His current medicine is a cream that his parents spread on his arm every other day. They give him vitamins and other supplements to try to replace lost minerals. Tami Wilken, who works part time at the International House of Pancakes, and her husband, Bill, who drives trucks for FedEx, have spent $65,000 to $70,000 on treatment for their son.
It is worth it, they say. Gavin resumed speaking within two weeks of starting chelation. Within a year, he was using six-word sentences. This past school year, he was in a regular first-grade class with the help of a teacher's aide. They hope that by third grade, he will be
able to handle classwork on his own. Quinlisk and many other doctors say some autistic children improve on their own, for unknown reasons. So the fact that some kids get better
while on a given treatment proves nothing, they argue. Tami Wilken doesn't buy it. "Absolutely not," she says. "There is no way it could be a coincidence."
Source of autism remains unclear
J.B. Handley, Generation Rescue's founder, doesn't buy it either. Handley, who lives in Oregon, has an autistic son who he says is improving while having chelation treatment. Authorities are so intent on vaccinating children that they've covered up the harm, and studies concluding otherwise are tainted by the influence of drug companies, Handley says.
Handley contends that all autism is caused by mercury and that because of the preservative that used to be common in vaccines, "an entire generation has been poisoned," he says. That cuts against conventional wisdom, which holds that autism is a complicated, varied condition that probably has multiple causes. Handley says the symptoms of autism are strikingly similar to those of mercury poisoning. That's why he believes chelation works.
The treatment has caused controversy before. In 1998, the Iowa Board of Medical Examiners suspended a West Des Moines doctor partly for using chelation as a treatment for heart disease and diabetes. The doctor still hasn't had his license restored.
Under state rules, the treatment may be used only to treat heavy-metal poisoning. Ann Mowery, the licensing board's executive director, says she hasn't heard of any Iowa physicians using the treatment for autism. She says the board hasn't ruled on whether that would be a permitted practice, because the subject hasn't been brought up.
Gavin's physician, Dr. Robert Filice of suburban Chicago, knows his "alternative" therapy is outside the medical mainstream. But he says he's not worried about getting in trouble for it because chelation is intended to take out heavy metals, and that is precisely how he's using it.
Filice is not sure that all autism cases are caused by mercury poisoning, but he believes that even small amounts of the metal can harm children who for genetic reasons have trouble excreting it. The doctor says he's treated about 20 autistic children with chelation, and about half of them have shown dramatic improvement. "There's no guarantee that they're going to respond. But it's such a safe therapy, with the potential benefits being so great, I would tend to err on the side of treating somebody, just to see what happens."
Such talk leaves many people wondering if chelation is the answer, or if it is just the latest straw for desperate parents to grasp.
More research urged on mercury's role
Count Steven Muller among the undecided. Muller is executive director of the Homestead, a Runnells autism treatment agency. He sympathizes with families who are reaching out for unusual solutions.
"It's great to have people pushing the envelope, because if they don't, the world stays flat," he says. "But I've also heard people say that all autistic kids can be cured, thereby raising false hopes for families that probably always will be dealing with this."
Muller's agency relies heavily on behavioral therapies to help autistic children and adults get along in the world. He believes there is enough suspicion to justify continued studies of Thimerosal's possible role. Even now that the preservative has been removed, he suggests that doctors should consider spreading the shots out, instead of giving them in bunches. That might lessen possible complications, he says.
"But when parents say, 'I'm not going to vaccinate my kids,' that's the wrong approach," Muller says. "You do need to vaccinate your kids." Muller is wary of expensive, unproven treatments. He has seen families go into debt to pay for all kinds of approaches, from swimming with dolphins to taking complicated vitamin therapies. Some might work for a few kids, he says, but not for everyone.
Subject: ABC News: Actress chelates after mercury poisoning
Actress Describes Mercury Poisoning OrdealDaphne Zuniga Was Eating a High Seafood Diet
By LIZ BOROD WRIGHT
Oct. 21, 2005 — - Fish had become large part of Daphne Zuniga's diet. She was eating what she described as "your average Hollywood stay-in-shape diet, a ton of fish and low carbs."
"I was eating tuna four times a week," said Zuniga, who stars in the ABC Family series "Beautiful People." "I would go out for sushi and think, 'Oh great, at least we're not going for Italian, with all the oil and carbs.'"
She was also experiencing an array of mysterious health problems. In addition to severe headaches, she had cramping in her fingers and feet. She also frequently felt "a sort of tingling, as if someone was tickling you, all up and down my body and on my legs, and it got more and more pronounced," she said.
Mercury poisoning can also affect your cognitive functioning, and Zuniga, 43, found that she was unable to remember her lines -- even if she had learned them the night before.
"I had crying spells, low-grade depression, loss of memory, and brain fog, which is where I would be talking to you and I would get disoriented," she said. Then, in February 2004, after eating sushi four times in one week, Zuniga broke out into an itchy rash all over her body that landed her in the emergency room. She saw all sorts of doctors, but no one mentioned mercury poisoning.
In October, Zuniga asked her doctor about whether she might have mercury poisoning after she read an oft-quoted statistic from an EPA study: that one in six women of childbearing age has elevated mercury levels. Sure enough, the level of mercury that showed up in a blood test revealed that she was significantly over the safe level.
Road to Recovery
Zuniga immediately stopped eating seafood, and has no plans to start again. She also embarked on treatment to rid her body of the mercury. Her doctor gave her regular chelation injections, which helps the body excrete heavy metals through urine. She also took supplements she found at the health food store that contain natural chelating ingredients. [It's important to note, however, that taking chelating supplements on your own and not under a doctor's care can be dangerous.] Six months later, her symptoms of cramping and tingling were gone. Her mind was much clearer and her mood had improved. Zuniga still drinks shakes with protein powder that contains glutathione, a protein that binds to toxins like mercury and helps the body get rid of them.
Despite her ordeal, Zuniga still encounters her share of skeptics. "People don't want to acknowledge the effects of mercury; [they] will say things like, 'Oh, that's our society, we're so overstimulated,'" she said. "I have experienced the difference between the disconnected brain fog and the clarity," added Zuniga, who is working with the Turtle Island Restoration Network, a California environmental group, on their campaign to inform the public about mercury. Right now, this group is trying to get the national supermarket chain Safeway to post signs in all of its supermarkets warning about the dangers of mercury in fish.
Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures
From Monsters and Critics.com
The Age of Autism: Gold salts pass a test
By Dan Olmsted
Dec 23, 2005, 19:00 GMT
In a Striking Follow-up to Our Reporting on the First Child Diagnosed with Autism -- and His Improvement After Treatment with Gold Salts -- a Chemistry Professor Says Lab Tests Show the Compound Can \'reverse the Binding\' of Mercury to Molecules.
\'This does lend support to the possible removal of mercury from biological proteins in individuals treated with gold salts,\' Boyd Haley, professor and former chemistry department chair at the University of Kentucky, said Thursday.
The potential significance: Donald T. -- Case 1 among children diagnosed with autism in the 1930s -- showed marked improvement in his autistic symptoms after being treated with gold salts for an attack of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. That`s according to his brother, who we interviewed earlier this year in the small Mississippi town where he and Donald, now 72, still live.
One theory of autism -- strongly dismissed by federal health authorities and mainstream medical groups -- is that the disorder is primarily caused by a mercury preservative called thimerosal that was used in vaccines beginning in the 1930s. Some parents and researchers who believe autism is, in essence, mercury poisoning are using treatments designed to remove mercury from the body or offset its neurological effects.
Haley is among a minority of scientists who holds this view, and after reading about Donald`s improvement he set out to test whether gold salts have any effect on mercury. \'You follow your nose in research, and when I saw that I thought, yes, this is a possibility,\' said Haley.
Haley`s experiment was quite simple: He began with a colored thiol-containing compound. Thiols are the class of molecules that contain a sulfhydryl group (a sulfur and hydrogen atom bound together) and, because of the affinity of mercury for sulfur, these molecules bind tightly to mercury. Thiols are found in most enzymes, and when mercury binds to them, these enzymes lose their biological activity, which is needed to maintain healthy cells, he said.
Haley performed two tests involving inorganic mercury -- the type of mercury thimerosal breaks down to in the brain, he said.
Haley`s compound was designed to turn colorless when mercury binds to it. In the first test, he added the mercury, and the \'optical density\' measurement went from 0.23 units down to 0.11 units immediately, and down to 0.03 units in half an hour -- a clear sign that the mercury had bound to the thiol.
In the second test he premixed the mercury with gold salts for two minutes, then added it to the same solution. This time the optical density dropped to 0.11 but then slowly increased back up to 0.23 within about 30 minutes -- \'totally the opposite of the situation with mercury alone,\' Haley said. \'The only way this could happen would be for the gold salts to remove mercury from the thiol-containing compound.\'
The advocacy group SafeMinds -- which opposes the use of mercury in medicines and provided Haley with the $142 prescription of gold salts to test -- called the results potentially significant but cautioned against premature use of the compound to treat autistic people.
\'Clinicians have shown that some autistic children show strong recovery from their symptoms after biomedical treatment,\' said SafeMinds` Mark Blaxill. \'So any time we discover a treatment that works in a child, we need to take it seriously.
\'According to his brother`s unprompted report, Donald T. recovered from autism after treatment with gold salts. We should be all over that, especially after Boyd`s work. But we need to proceed with care to make sure that this is a safe treatment.\'
Haley made the same point. \'Please note that I am not recommending using gold salts to treat autistics, but it would certainly be worth a project if carefully monitored by a physician in a good clinic.\'
In August Donald`s brother described to us his \'miraculous response\' to gold-salts treatment for a life-threatening attack of juvenile arthritis. Donald was given injections of the salts over a two- to three-month period at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis at age 12 in 1947.
The arthritis cleared up, and so did the \'extreme nervousness\' and excitability that had afflicted him, his brother said. Donald also became \'more social.\' He went on to college, where he was invited to join a fraternity; worked as a bank teller; and now, in retirement, pursues his love of golf and travels the world. Most of those early patients -- and thousands since -- were institutionalized when they got older or lived in extremely sheltered circumstances, according to follow-up reports. (Donald did not respond to our request for an interview, and we are not identifying him at this time beyond information in the original case study and follow-up.)<!--page-->
Before Haley tested the gold salts, he told us why he thought it was worth investigating.
\'Nothing has a higher affinity for mercury than elemental gold. They form bonds that are very tight,\' Haley said. Devices designed to detect and filter out mercury routinely use gold, he noted -- and they obviously would employ a less expensive element if gold weren`t so effective. Mercury was also used to extract gold from ore in mining operations.
In the body, Haley said, gold likely is \'attracted to the same places as mercury. They would probably make it to the same spot in the body. It (gold) would probably cross the blood-brain barrier like mercury. There are reasons to think that if you put it in, it would chase mercury down because they`re very similar in their chemistry.
\'So you might be able to displace it with the gold. The chemistry gets complicated here, but gold does not do as much oxidative stress as does mercury. The gold isn`t nearly as toxic as the mercury. ... It could take it off the enzyme it`s inhibiting and reactivate that enzyme.\'
Haley said he was intrigued that the treatment may have benefited Donald when he was 12 -- old for such a positive response, according to proponents of biomedical therapies. The most controversial such treatment is chelation, which uses drugs in an attempt to pull toxic metals -- mercury in particular -- from the body.
\'It doesn`t seem to work with the older kids,\' Haley said. \'These older kids are just lost.\' But, Haley emphasized: \'Don`t jump on this. Be careful. You can hurt kids.\'
That concern was underscored when a 5-year-old autistic child died this year while undergoing chelation in Pennsylvania. Federal officials say it is not a responsible practice, although one advocacy group says more than 10,000 families have tried it, with significant benefit.
This Ongoing Series on the Roots and Rise of Autism Welcomes Reader Comment. E-Mail: Dolmsted@upi.Com
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Treating Autism One Wave at a Time
'The worst part about regressive autism...is that it catches parents off
By James Ottar Grundvig for The Epoch Times.
This February will mark the one-year anniversary in treating my autistic son's physical condition, and not merely treating him with psychology modalities that included speech therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), and a host of other special education therapies. What's significant about this date is threefold.
First, the infusion of the vitamins and nutrients that had been absent from his diet the day it collapsed at the age of two started the recovery. Second, the evolutionary steps of the treatment plan successfully identified and addressed his core issues. Third, the gradual implementation and phasing of the plan in four waves proved nimble and wise. What once seemed hopeless-from dropping the wall of denial that autism is a problem the child will outgrow, to securing special education services for the mysterious disorder-now is a journey through a deep valley rather than one trapped in a giant maze. The trek has been long and difficult, but the end goal is in sight and the direction well defined.
The worst part about regressive autism, found in most Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) children, is that it catches parents off guard. The speech goes. The fine-motor skills go, too. The diet shrinks due more to texture of food than taste. The great start to a baby's life in terms of learning and development are turned upside-down. In essence, the body and brain are at once under assault. That's because in many autistic
cases, the infants have been unable to filter out heavy metals. In turn, this accumulation has zapped their central nervous system. And that amplifies the senses and yet shrinks their view of the world from panoramic to monocular fritted with chaos.
Finding a doctor who understands the bio-neurotoxin roots of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is crucial. Finding one who will listen without forcing a treatment program prior to identifying the issues of an ASD child is equally important. Still, before the results from a battery of blood and urine tests come back, physicians, whether DAN (Defeat Autism Now!) or internists, can address a collapsed diet by issuing a palette of vitamins and minerals that most likely has been missing in a child. The tests are done to detect food "sensitivity" (not allergy) and see whether there is an unnatural balance in essential metals, such as copper, iron or magnesium, which are good for you, but not in excess. A red blood cell analysis test or a 24-hour urine "challenge" test will also show if there is the presence of toxic heavy metals, like arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium, which were found in my son, Fridrik.
If that double-edged sword of news-good because the core problem has been identified; bad because the child has been poisoned-returns with harmful metals, it will allow the doctor to take the next key step. And each doctor, depending on his protocol, will handle it differently.
It took a couple of physicians who insisted on treating Fridrik for ailments found in many ASD kids but not him, to find the right doctor. Located in Stamford, Connecticut, one hour outside New York City, an internist who practices environmental or "integrated" medicine stepped to the plate. It didn't bother me that he had never treated an autistic child before. He has been chelating adults contaminated with heavy metals and Alzheimer's patients, using many of the techniques that DAN doctors do. More important, he listened, learned, and quickly adapted his protocol to meet Fridrik's needs.
On top of the vitamins, the doctor prescribed a daily routine of giving Fridrik antioxidants, a formula tailored to my son's amino acids profile, and Phosphatidyl Choline (PhosChol), a brain neurotransmitter. That was the foundation of the first wave.
Since Fridrik's mother is a nurse, we began to give an intravenous glutathione injection, the brain's natural chelator, for a ten-week period every other day at home. During visits to the doctor's office, Fridrik received an injection of glutathione and PhosCol. This second wave ignited a quantum leap progress in his speech. It also confirmed the lab results of heavy metals toxicity. Had his own glutathione been working they way it's designed by nature, then there would be little improvement in his speech and
ability to focus in such a short period of time.
The third wave, chelation (DMPS) therapy has been the one weighted with the most risk. The decision came down to knowing that he, likely many other ASD children who have been chelated, would regress for a three-month period or worst. And watching the sad regressive tics resurface was painful to watch. Why does that happen? It is due to the mercury being "declawed" (the Greek word for chelation) and purged as it passes through the brain. Imagine sweeping dust out of the attic. Although you can sweep a lot of it down the hole, much of the dust is kicked in the air. When it settles, the mercury zaps the brain and nervous system a second time. As we begin the sixth month of chelation, knowing Fridrik is "dumping" a lot of mercury, in the long run it was best to interrupt the progress that glutathione made in his speech by making sure that we extract the bulk of the metal out of his system.
By the end of 2005, I learned of a protocol that uses a "methB-12" subcutaneous shot that was developed by a New Jersey DAN doctor. Given every third night, the B-12 subQ has helped Fridrik with speech during the regression caused by chelation, just as glutathione did prior to it. But it also helped his once restless slumber by allowing him to sleep the night through.
This fourth wave, combined with the other treatments over the year have allowed his body to adjust, to heal itself, to take big strides in recovery. These treatments in concert with special education therapies have given him a fighter's chance that one day he will be "mainstreamed" and join his peers in growing up.
Coming home the other day and seeing my son sit in front of the window, pushing his ears forward like radar dishes so he could hear the reflection of his own voice confirmed that we are on the right track. But two years of poisoning by vaccines and other sources has become a two-three year program to detox my son of the heavy metals that have damaged parts of his brain, that have kept him in a dark fog, and that have stolen his childhood.
James Ottar Grundvig lives and works in New York City. He has an autistic child.
Toxicologists Gather to Discuss Autism Spectrum Disorders
Workshops Highlight Environmental Influences, Chelation
The cause and treatment of autism spectrum disorders was the focus of two dedicated sessions at the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology, held in Charlotte, N.C., in March 2007. More than 6,000 toxicologists convened to interact and present the most recent data in toxicology affecting a wide number of organ systems, including the brain.
The first autism-related session offered an overview of the role of the environment in autism, allowing toxicologists to discuss new avenues of research to study gene–environment interactions in a multidisciplinary setting. The second session focused on the use and efficacy of chelation in heavy metal poisoning and relationship to autism spectrum disorder.
Search for Clues in the Environment
A March 26 workshop, entitled “Environmental Risk Factors for Autism: Search for Clues,” was organized by Autism Speaks/CAN-funded researcher Dr. Ellen Silbergeld from John's Hopkins University. The workshop presentations spanned multiple disciplines, and highlighted evidence that multiple environmental risk factors may contribute to the development of symptoms of autism.
Dr. Craig Newschaffer started off the workshop by illustrating the “epidemiological triangle,” that is, counting people affected by a disease as a triad across the person, the time, and the place in which they live or are counted. In the case of autism, there is a concern over the change in prevalence over the past 10 years, especially since the recent publication of the MMWR report (click here to read more), which reported an increase in prevalence to 1 in 150 children.
Because of multiple environmental factors (including increased awareness of this disorder) and diagnostic criteria changes, it is hard to parcel out the effect of any one particular exposure using epidemiological data. In fact, it is easy to misinterpret many studies that simply show a correlation of an increased risk of autism due to any one environmental risk factor. Correlation between two variables does not imply causation and studies which do so should be viewed with caution as they can lead to false positives. Newschaffer emphasized that this is a complex disease with a highly heritable component. Therefore, biologically plausible candidates as environmental risk factors should be explored by toxicologists.
Genetic Candidates Provide Scientific Leads
Following that line of reasoning, Pamela Lein from Oregon Health Sciences University, Isaac Pessah from UC Davis (and recipient of the CAN environmental innovator award) and Patricia Rodier identified possible exposures which may interact with known gene candidates.
Lein, an expert in environmental effects on genes that regulate development of the nervous system, hypothesized that genetic factors that interact with environmental exposures lead to a disruption of neurodevelopment. She pointed out several known examples and ideas for future research. For example, gene mutations of proteins MET, Wnt, semaphorin, reelin, neuroligins, engrailed and ephrins, have all been linked to ASD's through genetic screens and genetic studies.
As they participate in aberrant neuronal connectivity, synaptogenesis and neuronal connectivity, disruption of the normal function of these genes can lead to severe neurological symptoms. Therefore, the effects of environmental toxicants should be studied more closely on the expression of these molecules. Alternatively, the behavioral effects of toxicants or environmental agents in animals which show mutations of these genes should be performed. The abnormal expression of these molecules could help explain the imbalance of inhibition vs. excitation in different brain regions. This imbalance has been observed by other researchers studying the disorder and may serve as one of the mechanisms behind many abnormal behaviors.
Looking specifically into how neurons function on a more basic biological level, Pessah has made important contributions to the understanding of the role of the CaV1.2 receptor in autism. Mutations of this receptor have been reported as the cause of Timothy Syndrome. Around 60 percent of individuals with Timothy Syndrome show symptoms of autism, making this molecular target of interest to many toxicologists and neurobiologists. In addition to this receptor's role in calcium signaling, which controls cellular processes, it is also present on immune cells. This means that this mutation, along with other mutations that also affect calcium signaling, may contribute to symptoms in ASD via dysfunction in the immune response.
Together, Lein and Pessah presented evidence of specific molecular and genetic targets where environmental exposures may lead to disrupted neurobiological function relevant to understanding ASD.
The Immune System: Target of Toxins or Predisposing Factor?
Both Pessah and Silbergeld emphasized the role of the immune system in ASD, as a potentially important area for evaluating environmental toxicant exposure, as well as interactions between genetic susceptibility and environmental agents at the level of genes which regulate the immune system.
Because of the complexity of ASD, there are likely many different causes of autism and, accordingly, many different risk factors which may contribute. While current diagnostic techniques integrate the range of neurobehavioral deficits and other symptoms in ASD, disaggregation of the many forms of ASD may provide more accurate clues of which genes and which exposures are responsible for autism spectrum disorders.
While observational and biological markers of immune dysfunction have been observed in some children with autism, these markers have not been organized into different subsets of clinical symptoms. Silbergeld pointed out some convergent mechanisms by which mercury exposures could contribute to ASD. She concluded by pointing out that genotype, which might contribute to immune system changes, can serve as an underlying susceptibility for which different triggers produce disease. In this way, environmental triggers or exposures have different effects based on a predisposing susceptibility. While some individuals are vulnerable based on genetics or early exposure, others are not affected by these same environmental risk factors.
Risk Factors Previously Identified:
In addition to unknown environmental factors, Rodier at the University of Rochester reported her findings on five known pharmaceutical and environmental factors which result in higher odds ratios for developing autism after exposures. These include: valproic acid, thalidomide, rubella, misoprostol and ethanol.
She pointed out that in addition to their teratogenic effects, exposure to these agents led to some symptoms and features that resembeled autism when administered during specific critical times in gestation. Together with colleagues at the University of Rochester, she also demonstrated that both children and animals exposed to valproic acid in utero demonstrated similar responding on a learning task which is dependent on normal functioning of a brain region called the cerebellum. This parallel in behavioral functioning may be due to alterations in expression of a gene called HOX1A, or it may be the result of more subtle “epigenetic” changes which affect gene expression.
Role of Epigenetics
Epigenetics refers to mutations that can be passed on from generation to generation without modifications of the DNA sequence. This can be done by chemically modifying different parts of the DNA code, which either turns on or turns off gene expression. Of interest, instead of observing changes in the DNA code, chemical modifications can be made to the DNA, or to the proteins which pack DNA.
Importantly, these epigenetic modifications can be inherited, occur spontaneously, or they can be targets of environmental factors. These sorts of “epigenetic” changes have been studied in autism spectrum disorder and may not only be the target of pharmacological agents, but other non-toxic environmental exposures including diet and social experiences. This means that environmental exposures may include neurotoxic agents, but should not be restrictive in definition.
Summary and Conclusions
Together, the speakers urged the over 150 toxicologists who attended this workshop to consider studying autism as a multifactorial disease, incorporating genetic and environmental influences and requiring multidisciplinary research teams. In addition, the immune system should be considered as target or a predisposing factor to a number of environmental exposures in autism. Finally, environmental exposures and toxins for study should be carefully chosen based on their biological plausibility in producing neurobiological and behavioral symptoms characteristic of ASD.
Utility of Chelation Therapy Highlighted
In the March 27 workshop, Donald Smith from the University of California Santa Cruz and Barbara Sturpp from Cornell University organized a symposium on “Advances in the Efficacy of Chelation Treatment to Alleviate Neurocognitive Effects of Lead and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.”
Smith pointed out that the use of the chelating agent succimer (otherwise known as Chemet®, or meso 2, 3-dimercaptosuccinic acid, DMSA) is FDA-approved for use in cases of lead poisoning only. However, this treatment is being used in a variety of neurological disorders, including autism.
While the practice of using chelation therapy is becoming more common, the benefits and risks of this treatment are not well studied. Therefore, the purpose of this workshop was to highlight recent clinical and animal model studies to address the possible risks and benefits of chelation treatment for metal poisoning.
Lessons for the “TLC” Study
The benefits of chelation to treat individuals with severe lead poisoning have been well established. However, prior to the mid-1990s there was little evidence to demonstrate the benefits and possible risks of chelating children with mild to moderate, or ‘subclinical' lead poisoning. Cognitive impairments including behavioral, attention, memory, and IQ deficts can occur at lead levels lower than what has historically been considered “toxic”.
In order to determine the beneficial effects of succimer chelation at these lower exposure levels, a NIH-funded multicenter, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial in children with moderate (below 45 micrograms/deciliter) blood lead levels was conducted. Kim Dietrich from the University of Cincinnati, an investigator in this study (termed the Treatment of Lead Poisoned Children, or “TLC” study) presented his findings, which were originally published in 2004.
This study investigated the effects of chelation or placebo in lead-exposed children who were chelated as toddlers and followed them up at 7 1/2 years of age. Children were administered a battery of tests which examined cognitive, learning, memory and behavioral domains. Their results showed that children receiving succimer chelation did not perform any differently on these measures compared to those receiving a placebo.
The authors concluded that because chelation showed no beneficial effects on cognitive performance, this study reinforces the importance of preventing or limiting exposure to lead in the environment to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.
Recent Evidence to Suggest Caution
Lead exposure in animal models and humans has been shown to produce cognitive deficits, and these cognitive deficits have been alleviated by succimer chelation treatment in animals. Recent studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives and Neurotoxicology and Teratology examined the effects of chelation in animals treated during development with differing lead levels (no lead, moderate, and high lead).
These studies also examined succimer chelation therapy in animals that had not been exposed to lead. The authors report that while the succimer treatment was beneficial in lead exposed animals, it appeared to produce some long-term detrimental effects in those who were not exposed. While chelation treatment paradigms differ in animals and in clinical practice, the authors of this report urge caution in administering chelating agents to individuals who do have not show evidence of heavy metal exposure.
Chelators help remove heavy metals from the body by forming chemical bonds with metals (such as lead and mercury), which facilitates excretion of these chelator/metal complexes through the urine or feces. Therefore, individuals undergoing chelation may show a reduction in blood levels of these toxic metals accompanied by an increase in their urinary excretion. However, in animal studies of lead poisoning, these changes were not well-associated with reductions in brain lead levels, leading researchers conclude that the use of blood lead levels as a marker of metal reductions in other tissues such as the brain may overestimate the potential benefits of chelation.
This suggests that clincial chelation as currently practiced may reduce uptake of heavy metals into the brain but may not sufficiently remove what is already there. Therefore, the mechanism by which chelation alters cognitive performance in individuals with mild to moderate metal exposure needs further study.
Chelation Use in Autism Spectrum Disorders
The role of heavy metals such as mercury in autism has been heavily debated, and many parents are turning to chelation as a potential treatment. Dr. Elizabeth Mumper presented her findings from treating children at the Advocates for Children Pediatric Clinic in Virginia.
She reports that she has treated 280 children with autism who showed altered metabolism of porphyrins in blood and urine. She uses this disruption in porphyrin levels as an indirect marker for heavy metal exposure, and in addition noted that these patients show a disruption in the methionine synthase pathway, also measured in urine and blood. In addition to chelation therapy, children receive vitamin supplementation to compensate for possible loss of essential metals lost during succimer treatment.
Although no statistical analyses were conducted on the effectiveness of chelation therapy in children with autism, Dr. Mumper has cited positive responses from parents who report an improvement of symptoms following oral succimer chelation therapy as part of the DAN! protocol.
Summary and Conclusions
The panel of experts convened to discuss and present this topic emphasized the need for studies which show the molecular actions of chelation for efficacy and adverse events. In addition, research needs to be conducted to resolve inconsistencies between animal models and human data. In order to protect against depletion of essential minerals during chelation, studies need to evaluate the mobilization and excretion of essential trace elements during long-term chelation to determine whether vitamin and mineral supplementation offers protection against possible adverse effects of chelation.
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The usefulness of chelation therapy for the remission of symptoms caused by previous treatment with mercury-containing pharmaceuticals: a case report
Serafina Corsello et al.
Cases Journal 2009, 2:199 doi:10.1186/1757-1626-2-199
Introduction: A great deal of data regarding the toxicology of mercury has been recently reported. Although the most common human exposures to mercury are currently mercury vapour from amalgam tooth fillings, methylmercury from seafood and ethylmercury as a preservative in vaccines, in the past mercury compounds have been used in the treatment of syphilis.
Case presentation: Mercury intoxication was found in a 67 year-old Italian man affected by neurological symptoms of apparently unknown origin. The patient developed syphilis forty years ago and then underwent therapy with mercurials to treat his chronic bacterial infection. We treated the patient with disodium edetate chelation therapy. Six months after the beginning of the therapy, the patient's neurological symptoms began to decrease, and were completely cured after two years of therapy.
Conclusion: This case supports the use of chelation therapy with disodium edetate to remove damages caused by mercury intoxication.