Beating up the Burglar – The Omnibus Autism Proceeding – Second Set of Hearings (Thimerosal & Autism) – Day Two – May 13, 2008
By Kent Heckenlively, Esq.
I’ve often tried to imagine what it must be like to be an attorney bringing one of those frivolous law suits we hear about so often in the news.
You know, like the burglar who surprises some sleeping homeowner who beats the heck out of him before calling the police, then turns around and sues the homeowner for assault and battery.
The attorney will lamely try to explain she’s trying to vindicate some greater principle, such as “Even if you’re surprised in your bed by an intruder, that doesn’t give you the right to go all Rambo on him.”
In trying to defend mercury in this day of testimony I thought Ms. Renzi of the government had about as much success.
Continued Cross-Examination of Dr. Aposhhian (Witness for families)
Ms. Renzi continued with questions about how methyl mercury exposure can lead to autism and Dr. Aposhian gave good responses.
On the question of why he didn’t have much information about Pink’s Disease (a nerve disorder caused by mercury in baby teething powders which seemed to affect about 1 in 500 users), he replied it was because data was lacking. The disease disappeared when government regulators took mercury-containing teething powders off the market. The implication though was that there seemed to be some individuals who suffered from hyper-sensitivity to mercury since only a small percentage of users were affected.
When questioned whether mercury efflux-disorder is recognized in the medical community, Aposhian replied he didn’t know, but that it was recognized by many who treat autism. He had come to his own belief in mercury efflux disorder through the work of Drs. Holmes, Haley, Bradstreet, and Adams, but cautioned that much is still not fully understood.
In discussing how mercury efflux disorder could cause autism, Dr. Aposhian discussed the possible effects in certain narrow developmental windows, similar to results from thalidomide, and referred to Wilson’s disease, the known copper efflux disorder.
In what was probably her best set of questions, Dr. Aposhian noted he couldn’t show that chelation improved the neurological manifestations of autism.
Redirect Examination of Dr. Aposhian (Witness for the families)
Attorneys for the family brought out that Dr. Aposhian had consulted with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for their 2004 report. Dr. Aposhian then went on to detail what he viewed as flaws with that group.
The IOM group didn’t cite to the Charleston papers on monkeys and mercury exposure from the mid-1990s or discuss ideas of neuro-inflammation in this population. Additionally, the IOM study group was made up completely of epidemiology and vaccine people. There were no toxicologists, immunologists, or biochemists in the group.
Direct Examination of Dr. Deth (Witness for the families)
Dr. Deth is a well-respected professor of Pharmacology at Northeastern University.
According to Dr. Deth, inorganic mercury gets trapped in the brain by binding to sulfur or thiol molecules. The remaining mercury then disrupts sulfur metabolism in the brain as well as other tissues.
He briefly reviewed the importance of methylation, defined as the transfer of carbon atoms. Methylation turns genes on and off and can be decreased by oxidative stress.
Dr. Deth’s greatest contribution to the field was the discovery that D4 dopamine receptors carried out methylation and that this problem was the genetic risk factor for ADHD, creating a 3-5 times higher risk in those individuals. This result has been supported by more than 100 subsequent peer-reviewed articles.
Much of the examination consisted of his review of the work of Dr. Jill James, showing that concentrations of thimerosal comparable to that found in vaccines caused a 2/3 reduction in cellular glutathione and more than a 90% reduction in cellular B-12. Aluminum was also studied, and did not appear to be as potent, although there were significant effects.
Dr. Deth also presented some of his unpublished research using the brain matter of children with autism who had died, which showed evidence of neuro-inflammation.
The sum of various reports seems to show genetic differences which may show themselves in the response to mercury, resulting in decreased methylation.
In discussing how chelation might remove mercury from the brain, Dr. Deth replied it was important to look at the entire body, not simply the brain.
Based on what he has read and his own research, Dr. Deth has come to the “unavoidable conclusion” that thimerosal is a causative factor in autism.
Cross-Examination of Dr. Deth (Witness for families)
Here’s where it gets really difficult for Mr. Matanoski, the government attorney.
In reply to his questions, Dr. Deth says he considers the strongest evidence of the thimerosal-autism theory to be the post-mortem brain tissue autopsies from children with autism, and the work of Dr. Jill James.
Some time was spent discussing why the National Institute of Health (NIH) rejected his study proposal on thimerosal and autism because as they told him “thimerosal doesn’t cause autism”.
Additional time was spent discussing who provides him with research money. Much of it comes from autism organizations interested in the mercury-autism connection.
Matanoski tried to tie Dr. Deth to the Geiers, but there were no citations to their work in what he’s presented to the court, although he has in some conference presentations.
Deth had once suggested that oxidative stress might be related to childhood obesity, but acknowledges it is simply an unstudied hypothesis at this point.
He believes thimerosal is directly tied to the increase in autism, although he acknowledges those numbers have not decreased with the decrease of thimerosal in vaccines as of yet.
Redirect Examination of Dr. Deth (Witness for families)
Regarding the rejection of his proposal to study thimerosal and autism by the NIH, Mr. Williams read from the CBS News website concerning the recent interview with Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institute of Health.
In the interview Dr. Healy asserted that the thimerosal-autism hypothesis was biologically plausible, especially given some results in animal models, and that government researchers have been “too quick to dismiss the hypothesis” and perform the needed research for “fear of what they might find.”
It was then easy for Dr. Deth to pivot from that information to discuss the similar experience he had with the NIH in regards to his proposal.
Recross Examination of Dr. Deth (Witness for families)
The only issue Mr. Matanoski was able to bring up was that Dr. Deth’s proposal was rejected by fellow academics, not the government directly. However, he has no idea who specifically rejected his proposal.
Closing Thoughts on this Day of Testimony
What did the defense gain from this day?
There was once a condition called Pink’s Disease caused be the mercury in baby teething powders which affected only about 1 in 500 users. This is strongly suggestive of a vulnerable population who may not effectively deal with mercury.
The main theory of many people treating autism is “mercury efflux disorder” which has a precedent with something called Wilson’s Disease, which is a known “copper efflux disorder.”
The Institute of Medicine group from 2004 reporting on thimerosal and vaccines had no toxicologists, immunologists, or biochemists, and did not include relevant research.
Dr. Deth, who made one of the most important genetic contributions to understanding ADHD believes from his review and research that thimerosal is linked to autism through a “gene-environment” reaction.
Dr. Deth had his proposal to study thimerosal and autism turned down by the National Institute of Health because as he alleges he was told “thimerosal doesn’t cause autism.” Then the former head of the NIH goes on television and says that government researchers have been too quick to dismiss the vaccine-autism hypothesis and do the needed research.
Can it get any worse?
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.