October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.



Entries in autism (6)


Hygiene Leads to Disease? Part 2: Autism

My last post was about how parasitic intestinal worms seem somehow to protect against inflammatory intestinal autoimmune disease.  People from rural environments and developing countries, where such parasites are common, do not suffer such inflammatory diseases.  Stewart Johnson, a deeply concerned father of an autistic child has taken this further.

         Johnson researched all sorts of autism cures in hopes of alleviating his 13-year-old son’s self=destructive behaviors.  He knew that one idea about autism is that some of the symptoms are a result of inflammation of glial cells in the brain.

         As you can see from my two brief posts last week (May 17 and 19), the snake oil salesmen have been quick to hop onto the inflammation-causes-autism bandwagon.  But that doesn’t mean inflammation isn’t part of some forms of autism.

         In search of inflammation cures, Stewart Johnson came across the research I reported in my last post.  Wondering if parasitic helminth (Trichuris suis) worms might help his son, Johnson got in touch with his son’s doctor, Eric Hollander, who helped him get a sample of the worm eggs (T. suis ova or TSO) and with Joel Weinstock, one of the researchers who found they could alleviate Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. 

         With their help, Johnson tried the worm therapy and found that it did indeed alleviate the terrible, self-destructive autism symptoms his son was suffering.  Years later, the son, now twenty, is healthy on bi-weekly doses of TSO.

         What a miracle!  Now the task for researchers is to figure out what the worms are doing to modify immune systems so that inflammation goes away.  Meanwhile, see Stewart Johnson telling this story below.


Hygiene Leads to Disease? Part 1

Not so long ago three health researchers, Joel Weinstock, Robert Summers, and David Elliot discovered a really good thing about some parasitic worms that infect the human gastrointestinal tract.  The worms keep their host humans free of certain autoimmine diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

         First the researchers noticed that these autoimmune diseases are virtually unknown in the third world and in the rural south of the United States.  Then they noticed that the parasitic worms common in the intestines of the migrants didn’t seem to make them sick.  Finally, they found that as populations immigrate from the third world to the U.S., or migrate from the rural south to the urban north, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis begin to be a problem.

         Could it be, thought the researchers, that parasitic helminth worms (EEEUWWW!!!) are actually good for us?  In eliminating them from our diets and ours bodies, have we left ourselves vulnerable to diseases the parasites somehow control?

         Using helminth worms from pigs that don’t become permanent residents of humans, the researchers infected mice with inflamed intestines with helminthes and found the inflammation was alleviated.  Then they infected volunteers suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and found their symptoms were significantly improved.

         Wow!  Once again it turns out that evolution knows more than we do.  Once again it turns out that humans (and many other animals) evolved to make good use of the species that were here before us.  And there’s more to this worm thing, even some good news about autism…stay tuned!


When Will We Have an Autism Cure?

In my last post, I had begun talking about brain evolution in preparation for talking about the problem of autism.  I suppose I should say “autisms” because it has become clear that there is not just one such condition.  Instead we are faced with a spectrum of conditions that have certain characteristics in common, principally failures in social connection.

         Again we face the problem that humans think in categories.  We want an autism category, and we want a cause category, and we want a cure category.  But almost nothing in biology is that simple.

         As I discussed in my August 9, 2007 post, What Is Autism Trying to Teach Us?, every characteristic we have is the result of complex genetic interactions producing complex chemical interactions within and around our cells.  This is true of any autistic characteristic.  So it is impossible that autism could be simple.  This doesn’t mean we can’t figure it out.  But it does mean figuring it out will take patience and persistent research.

         And autisms seem to be conditions of the human brain, either primarily, or secondarily in response to some genetic or physiological causes.  As I pointed out in my last post, the human brain is amazingly complex.  It doesn’t work the way people thought it did.  So whatever is wrong in autism is probably also complex and fairly unpredictable. 

         Scientific knowledge generally results from experiments.  Experiments are about predictions.  So in order to figure out autism, researchers will have to know a great deal more about how brains generate social connections.

         There is so much exciting brain research going on today, I am sure the problems of autism will eventually be solved.  But it’s hard to wait.


Autism-Vaccination Connection Turns Out to Be a Fraud, Part 2

In my last post, I was speaking of a “negative wonder,” the story of how a false medical notion—that vaccination causes autism—became a terrible threat.

         In 1998, the British medical journal The Lancet published an article by A.J. Wakefield claiming he had found a connection between childhood vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and autism.  This claim was false. Wakefield had published the article in order to make close to a million dollars for consulting in a lawsuit.

          Belief in the false claim spread wildly.  Over the next ten years, study after study, in various countries, proved that Wakefield’s claim was wrong.  But autistic adults, and parents of autistic children came to believe that all these studies were part of a plot financed by pharmaceutical companies or by government: Anything to hang on to the supposed vaccination/autism link.

         Last year, journalist Brian Deer researched every one of the 12 cases Wakefield used in his original study.  He found glaring discrepancies.  In some cases, autism began well before MMR vaccination.  In some cases, autism began too long after MMR to support the claimed connection.  In some cases there was no autisim.  In some cases, other symptoms that Wakefield claimed were part of the “autism/inflammatory bowel disease” syndrome were not present.

         In fact, Deer was able to display in a table, how none of the data support Wakefield’s claim.

         Personally, I would like to add that the study was also flawed from the standpoint of statistics: The children for the study were not chosen randomly, and the number of children examined for the study, 12, was far too small to provide significant data.

         And yet…we still don’t know what causes autism, nor do we have any cures. 

         The human brain is an exquisite wonder.  It can heal from a massive stroke and be better than before (as with Jill Bolte Taylor).  It can totally remap its own parts (as in The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D.)  It can understand cosmic and biological universes.  Surely it can figure out what’s what with the autistic brain. 

         More about this in my next post.


Autism-Vaccination Connection Turns Out to Be a Fraud

A few months ago, a friend asked me if she had made a mistake in having her toddler immunized against childhood diseases.  I assured her she had done the right thing.  Her little boy needs to be vaccinated against dangerous childhood diseases, as do all children. 

         She protested, “But my friends are saying, ‘Oh no!  How could you have let this happen?  Now your child will get autism.’”

         I assured her this wasn’t true, that test after test and study after study have shown no connection whatever between vaccination and autism.

         Now, at long last, the British journal Lancet has withdrawn as fraudulent, the 1998 article that claimed to show a connection between mumps/measles/rubella vaccination (MMR) and autism.

         What a terrible eleven years it has been for vaccination.  How many children have been put at risk?  Mumps, measles, and rubella (not to mention whooping cough, flu, and many others) are terrible diseases that can leave children permanently harmed or can even kill them.  If a pregnant woman contracts one of these diseases, her baby may be born with birth defects.  Yet vaccination can completely remove such risks.

         Fortunately, journalist Brian Deer has followed up on the 1998 report and uncovered manipulated data, as well as the fact that the author of the report manipulated the data for financial gain. 

         To me, the negative “wonder” here is how quickly this false report spread and became a “known fact.”  Another wonder is how long this false “known fact” has remained with us, in spite of all tests to the contrary.  And yet a further wonder will be how long it will continue to be a “known fact” even now that the original study has been shown to be a fraud.

         More about this next time.