A new study claiming to confirm the link between childhood autism and vaccines containing DNA obtained from cell lines that originated with tissue from aborted fetuses has sparked new enthusiasm among opponents of vaccinating kids against debilitating and even deadly diseases — as well as among opponents of abortion.
But when experts took a look at the new study, even those sympathetic with its premise that cells from aborted fetuses should not be used for medical purposes found that the study simply failed to make its case.
The lead author of the study, "Impact of environmental factors on the prevalence of autistic disorder after 1979," published in a September medical journal, is Theresa A. Deisher, described in a recent Nature magazine profile as "a cellular physiologist educated at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California," who recently founded a start-up biotech firm devoted to "developing alternatives to vaccines and therapeutics made using cell lines from aborted fetuses."
In other words, Deisher heads a company whose planned products would directly compete with the products condemned in her own study.
But the apparent conflict of interest is not the main reason that experts have dismissed Deisher's study. Mostly, they say, the study is simply poor science.
The study finds that "rising autistic disorder prevalence is directly related to vaccines manufactured utilizing human fetal cells." But as the Science Blogs site notes, the DNA derives from cell lines cultivated primarily from tissue samples taken in 1962 and 1966.
"If there was a correlation between DNA from these cells in vaccines and autism (or any other of the problems blamed on vaccines), wouldn't it have started decades before the early 1990s," asks Science Blogs, "which is the time anti-vaccinationists peg as the start of the vaccine-induced 'autism epidemic.'"
But the main flaw in the study, other experts say, is that autism symptoms, though not always noticed by parents, are present from birth — actually from before birth — but the vaccines cited on the new autism study were not administered to children until nearly a year after they were born.
"If autism is caused by a vaccine grown in fetal cell culture, it will happen after the vaccine is administered. During the period in which this study covers, no vaccine grown in fetal cell culture was scheduled to be given before 12 months of age," asks the Rational Catholics blog. "How could an immunization given months after birth cause changes in the brain of an infant before birth? How could a vaccine given 10 months later cause a two month old to lose interest in looking into people's eyes?"
The belief that childhood vaccines were a cause of autism disorder began in 1998 with the publication of a paper in the scientific journal Lancet. The paper's findings have since been retracted, and some of its data was condemned by other scientists as "fraudulent."