A new US study proposing a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
vaccine and autism in children could furtherinflame the controversy
surrounding MMR vaccination inBritain.
The research, led by Vijendra Singh, professor of immunology research at Utah
State University, was prominently covered inthe Daily Mail
and other British media on 9 August but receiveda frosty response
from most Britishexperts.
The researchers examined blood samples from 125 autistic children and
92 controls. They found an unusual MMR antibody in serumsamples from
75 autistic children but not in the control samples(Journalof Biomedical Science 2002;9:359-64)[Medline].
The authors suggested that"an inappropriate antibody response to
MMR, specifically the measlescomponent thereof, might be related to
Dr Mary Ramsay, epidemiologist at the Public Health Labor-atory Service in
London, said: "We have problems with the methodologyof the study. I
find it a strange technique to use the vaccineas a combined antigen.
The internationally validated techniqueis to look at these
Dr Singh's article explains his reasoning in choosing this method:
"Antibodies to MMR will be a true measure of seroconversionfor this
triple or polyvalent vaccine, instead of antibodies tomeasles, mumps
or rubella viral proteins that are individuallyused for measuring
virus serology in routinepractice."
Dr Ramsay added: "The authors report that the sera from autistic children
react with one particular component of the vaccine.The evidence that
this component is one particular antigen ofthe measles virus is not
credible. Firstly, there is insufficientvirus protein in the vaccine
to come up positive in the type oftest used by the authors.
Secondly, they were unable to detectthe main antigen of the measles
virus (NP) while apparently detectinganother antigen (HA). This
doesn't hold together. If there issufficient measles virus in the
vaccine to be detected then boththe NP and the HA antigens should bepresent."
Dr David Elliman, consultant in community child health at St George's
Hospital, London, said: "What worries me is the underlying
assumptions about causality. I don't think this research movesthe
England and Wales reported 126 measles cases this spring, compared with 32 in
the last quarter of2001.
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