Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Autism's Biggest Scandal

Is it possible for public health authorities to re-examine their rigid assumptions about autism disorders and if so how long does it take?  Autism research funding has been absolutely dominated for decades by the assumption that autism is 100% genetic. The "its gotta be genetic" model of autism research funding was exposed over a decade ago by Teresa Binstock. At the same time public health authorities knew, or should have known, that autism is not 100% genetic; that environmental factors are involved.
The twin studies in fact pointed to the genetic environmental model of interaction as the best model for examining autism disorders in the 1990's, as the  following 1998 published abstract illustrates,  and yet purely genetic research continues to be funded at approximately 19 or 20 to 1 over environmentally focused autism research. This imbalance is a scandal.

Early environmental factors in autism Patricia M. Rodier1,*, Susan L. Hyman2
Article first published online: 7 DEC 1998

DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2779(1998)4:2<121::AID-MRDD9>3.0.CO;2-S


Genetic and environmental influences are not mutually exclusive as causes of birth defects. Rather, both contribute to the etiology of many congenital anomalies. Recent results from studies of autism in twins argue that this is the case for autism spectrum disorders. Thus, even after the genetic causes of autism are known, it will be necessary to identify environmental factors that contribute to the expression of the symptoms. The first half of this review describes what has been learned from research on exogenous influences in autism, discussing studies of infections, inoculations, general pre- and perinatal factors, family histories, and drug and chemical exposures. The second discusses gene-environment interactions in other birth defects and the methods by which teratogens have been discovered. The role of known genetic syndromes in the etiology of autism is discussed with attention to whether their associations with the disorder are genetic or teratologic in nature. MRDD Research Reviews 1998;4:121–128. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

This autism research imbalance in the face of certain knowledge that autism is not 100% genetic is the biggest autism scandal of all and points, at best,  to incompetent, rigid thinking by those who determine what autism research projects get which funding and which do not. At worst, this research imbalance has been part of  a deliberate attempt to direct attention away from all potential environmental causes of autism disorders whether those causes are found in vaccines, paints, plastic products including toys and jewelry or power plant emissions, all lucrative profit generating products and activities.

At least 2 decades of almost exclusive funding of genetic autism research has provided very very few tangible results. Environmental autism  research that might have uncovered causes and led to treatments and cures has not happened. It is time, it is long past time to listen to Teresa Binstock, researchers Patricia M. Rodier  and Susan L. Hyman  and others who cried out in the autism research wilderness and start seriously funding and exploring environment based autism research. It is time to listen to Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto of UC Davis M.I.N.D. who stated in 2009:

"Right now, about 10 to 20 times more research dollars are spent on studies of the genetic causes of autism than on environmental ones. We need to even out the funding."

It is time to even out the funding and start seriously researching environmental causes of autism disorders.

It is time to end autism's biggest scandal.


Ian MacGregor said...

I have no doubt more money is spent on genetic than environmental research vis-a-vis autism, but I'd like to see some real numbers. If someone gives a range of 10 to 20 times, it suggests more of a hunch than an actual comparison.

Environmental studies are difficult, how do you truly isolate people from the chemical of interest, and often need to be carried out for year.

Nevertheless many are being funded.

Sandy Crux said...

Ian MacGregor is right. Trying to isolate hundreds of possible variables is easier said than done. Is it the number of vaccines included in a booster shot? Is it the preservatives in one or more? Is it the paint on the crib? Is it the air from a nearby factory?

I'm sure not trying to make excuses, just explain why genetic research is always easier from a quantitative experimental point of view.

Nevertheless, as I keep on telling, just keep talking. Something will come of it, not for my son or maybe not even Conor, but for the those children affected in the future.

My gut feeling (hypothesis as it were) is that my son's autism was both genetic and environmental. When he was on the Feingold diet as a child, it helped a bit in that he was somewhat able to concentrate. Even now, at aged 45, if he gets into the junk food, it is obvious.