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Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia - A Scientist on the Road to Damascus?

Ian LipkinBy Kent Heckenlively, Esq.

There is a most curious interview with Dr. Ian Lipkin in the April 2012 issue of Discover magazine entitled "In the Lab with the World's Greatest Virus Hunter".  I can't help but notice that Dr. Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the scientist who first identified West Nile Virus sounds more like a bio-med autism parent than a CDC spokesman who claims that while we don't know what causes autism, "we're sure it's not vaccines."

Many will no doubt remember it was Lipkin's study which  supposedly  disproved the work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield regarding the persistence of the vaccine strain of the measles in the gut of children with autism.  And it's certainly true that Lipkin has done little to counter that impression. 

However, a closer look at Lipkin's study reveals a more complicated picture.  Lipkin used the same lab as Wakefield and did identify the measles virus from one of the children with autism he studied. The patient selection criteria was significantly different than that used by Wakefield, and as I have written previously, Lipkin has recently used Wakefield's research in the footnotes to his recent article showing that different bacterial colonies are present in the guts of children with autism.  If Wakefield's research was so dishonest, why would Lipkin ever cite him?

Perhaps all this has set the stage for a conversion on the question of autism, similar to that of the apostle Paul, a former Christian hunter who after having a vision of Christ on the Road to Damascus, became one of the founders of the early Church.  For as much as Dr. Lipkin took the wrong road in regards to Dr. Wakefield's work, there has also been evidence of an exceptionally humane side to the man. 

When Dr. Mady Horning released her study showing that the neurotoxic effects of thimerosal in mice were dependent upon a certain genetic profile, the autism community worried that the long knives were out for her.  This could explain why only certain infants were harmed by the thimerosal in vaccines and not others.  Dr. Horning was sheltered by Dr. Ian Lipkin who made her his research partner, probably saving her academic career in the process.

Recently I've come across Lipkin in the controversy over the XMRV retrovirus and its possible link to both ME/chronic fatigue syndrome and autism.  When the situation with Dr. Judy Mikovits and the Whittemore-Peterson Institute fell apart, Dr. Lipkin had the power to determine whether the research would continue.  I am told by sources that Dr. Lipkin was actually threatened with legal action by various entities and he told them to take a hike.  Instead of succumbing to this pressure, he put Drs. Mikovits, Frank Ruscetti of the National Cancer Institute and discoverer of the first human retrovirus, as well as Jose Montoya of Stanford University, and others in charge of determining the possible link between XMRV (or a related human retrovirus) and these diseases.

Lipkin's willingness to remain agnostic on the question of XMRV (or other related human retroviruses) opens up some other possibilities into how a retrovirus could cause conditions like ME/chronic fatigue syndrome and autism.  A virus or other pathogen may cause collateral damage that is not simply due to the infection, but how the body responds to the pathogen. 

From the Discover magazine interview of April 2012:

Have we reached the point where we can link specific infections to specific psychiatric disorders?

No, the connection is much more complex.  When I worked with LCMV, it became clear that any sort of pertubation could damage the nervous system.  Nerves find their way to specific locations through signposts that are part of the immune system.  And if you increase immunological molecules of certain types, a nerve may jog this way as opposed to the way it's supposed to go.  It may not make a difference what the infectious agent is-bacterial, viral, or parasitic.

If the identity of the infection isn't critical, what is?

The important things are the genetic background of the individual and the timing of the insult.  If you look at the original work on the epidemiology of thalidomide [a morning sickness drug that turned out to cause birth defects], there were specific time points where, if the woman was exposed, the baby had a high probability of having bona fide autism.

One of the most fascinating links between infections and mental disease concerns PANDAS, pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders.  The bottom line is that strep might cause obsessive-compulsive disorder.  How could that happen?

An infection like strep provokes an antibody response, but the antibody created to fight the strep also recognizes proteins that are part of your body.  Antibodies don't typically traffic much in the central nervous system.  But if you have any one of a number of other infections or an insult like a head trauma, the blood-brain barrier [which normally protects the brain from pathogens] opens transiently.  Depending on how long and where the opening is, the antibodies get access to part of the central nervous system or brain.  We are studying this process now in mice, using drugs (bold is mine) to open up a  portion of the hindbrain or the forebrain or the hippocampus and tracking the effect.

Could autism be another version of a PANDAS-like disease?

It's possible, in some people.  There is probably a group of people who have a genetic component to autism, and for them, there may not be much of a trigger or any trigger at all required.  Another group is genetically predisposed, and if they encounter some factor or factors, individually or in combination, it could result in either the onset or the aggravation of the neurodevelopmental disorder; by factors, I include everything from heavy metals to infection. (bold is mine)  And lastly, there is a group that may be relatively or entirely normal, but is exposed prenatally to some factor or factors that have an effect on their nervous system and that manifests as autism.  That is the hypothesis, at least.

Did I really read that in the same Discover magazine which in its 2009 year-end issue declared that parents who were concerned about vaccine reactions were the #1 story of the year and constituted a threat to public health? 

Did the world's greatest virus hunter and one of America's most respected scientists just say that heavy metals or infections might have something to do with autism?  What amazing consumer product combines both heavy metals and pathogens in one convenient package?  It's on the tip of my tongue.  Let's see . . . is it baby formula?  No.  The Playstation 3?  No.  Oh yeah . . . vaccines!!!!

I consider Dr. Lipkin's comments to be extremely important for what he also suspects about antibodies.  While we know the immune systems of our children to be compromised and we may argue about which pathogen is responsible, that may not be the important question.  The important question might be what antibodies are produced by the body of an immuno-compromised individual in response to certain exposures.  The pathogen, whether it be XMRV or something else, may be of lesser importance.  If we can understand which antibodies might be causing the problems of autism and other diseases we are in a much better position to understand how to counteract them.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident playwright, who went from a prison cell to leading his country in a peaceful overthrow of communism once wrote, "You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career.  You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances.  You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them.  It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society."

I hope that Dr. Lipkin continues his recent attempts to do his work well.

Kent Heckenlively is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism



Hornig v Lipkin (well technically employers), includes allegations of data-fiddling by Lipkin in some autism research see points 186-188. Unproven allegations at this point but mostly checkable stuff and worth further investigations)



Interesting post. But we haven't got to that crucial point yet in research where the brain/gut syndrome is better understood. So we haven't yet adopted the correct vocabulary. As an CFS/ME sufferer I can vouch for the fact that CFS goes absolutely nowhere in attempting to describe these symptoms. Imagine stepping into a lead suit of armour each time you get hit with it. And then add vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, plunging low blood pressure, loss of balance, ringing in the head, fainting, and if you have extreme pain too add that, then you have some idea of what it feels like..
I am now quite convinced there is a correlation between the symptoms that arise from anti nerve gas pills and autism and ME. What causes it I wish I knew.
Then what should we call it you ask? How about Hypothalamitis? Isn't this tiny organ the hard drive?

My condolences Hennesey Jr.

Carolyn Richards

Once read a research paper where rats were injected with dye & forced to swim long distances, thus "stressing" them. When the brains were looked at the dye had seeped through the BBB. Some doctors consider an infection itself a "stressor" to the body & some consider pain a "stressor".
Of course there is also "mental" stress. Someone of great wisdom once named an illness "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome", these thing happen when patients are not involved or a few powers to be decide "what they think" something should be called. Like "mental illness", what does this conjure up in your mind? The definition has long been illness of the mind, not illness of the brain. Is everything a "mental illness"? Is AIDS a mental illness as it can cause AIDS dementia? Is syphiliss a "mental illness". I guess everything should be considered a "mental illness". I think someone just wants control of the hard drive.

Suspicious Minds

Why am I reminded of Lucy with the football?


cmo posted:
In 1997, Five months before Dr. Wakefield published his MMR paper, he received a phone call in the "middle of the night" informing him not to speak at a conference in the United States...

Barbra Loe Fisher
If one were to actually watch the video, it becomes readily apparent that it was Dr. Wakefield who received a threat, not Dr. Lipkin.

Thomas Michael Hennessy, jr.

HI, Louis Pasteur once said, "the antigen is NOTHING, the Terrain is everything!"

I have been an advocate for 24 years from my bed for people who suffer from What i call

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which Dr. Stephen Strauss of the NIH, declared was "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome"...He changed it from CEBV (Chronic Epstein Barr virus) syndrome.
i have appeared twice on CNN's Larry King LIve, for the full hour each time, and once i iniitiated an international campaign to get the media to cover this VICIOUS pandemic. We got shows on NBC:s Dateline-NBC, and CBS's 48 hours, and the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour did a story on me way back in 1992. Now, that the retired Rober MacNeil has a grandchild with Autism, they might agree to revisit this topic. I do know that Dr. Nancy Klimas said to me, "Hey Hennessy, How come you linked women with "CFS" with Sick Gulf War veterans just MONTHS after the end of Gulf War I?" and my answer was very simple, I said, "Nancy, the question really is why did you so called EXPERTS NOT see the obvious overlaps between sick Gulf War veterans and all these alleged "whiney white women who can't handle stress?"
and later, Professor Garth Nicolson did peer review work that SHOWED DEFINITIVELY, that of the top 50 symptoms of GWS, that the 95% MALE Gulf WAr Veterans, were within 5% points of Women with "CFS" and or "FMS". and later, Mr. Ross Perot, funded four studies with Dr. Robert Hailey, a top epidemiologist, formerly from the CDC got 4 peer reviewed studies in the 1997 winter edition of JAMA, and he basically concluded that "up to 80,000 sick Gulf WAR ONE Veterans suffered from a condition that CLOSELY resembles Chronic Fatigue Syndrome". Now, more than a decade later, that number has surpassed 285,000!!! there are MORE sick veterans from a FOUR day war in 1991, than in ALL the wars in the past century COMBINED! and Guess what? only the soldiers from the USA, Canada and the UK. All of whom were administered MULTIPLE vaccines, AND they were the ONLY ones who took the infamous Pyritistigmine Bromide (PB) Anti-nerve agent pills! and Professor Thomas TIedt, PhD. testified in a closed session of Congress that PB tablets can cause an M.S. or Lupus like illness after only ONE dose in 5% of the soldiers, and similar conditions in up to 30% of soldiers who take multiple doses of P.B. Tablets unless they have been DIRECTLY exposed to actual Nerve agents!. Now, Tricky Dick Cheney had gone around his mental midget boss, George W. ,and ordered this drug to be administered, because he had given the order as Sec. Defense under Tricky Dick Nixon to SELL/Give Saddam Hussein actual NERVE GAS during the Iran Iraq war which Saddam used on defenseless Iranian women and children and on FREEDOM, and PRO AMERICAN loving KURDISH citizens in the North! the Pentagon Brass were concerned that Saddam might have some NERVE AGENT stockpiles left over, so, they issued the PB Tablets, which sadly, many young troops 'ate like chiclets" one soldier told me! and years later, My Nemesis at the CDC, Dr. William Reeves testified in another CLOSED session of Congress. He was asked Directly by a Congressperson friendly to our side, "Is there any relationship between so called "CFS" and Gulf WAr Illnesses", and his aide called me that night and said, "Hennessy, He turned around slowly to survey the crowd before answering. It seemed like he was looking for someone who might sell him out"...and then the aide continued, "Dr. Reeves paused and said, "Well, a Mr. Hennessy and his group, Rescind, inc. have claimed this for a long time, but we now believe he was correct. CFS and GWS are not just similar, they are virtually Identical!".....and now, 21 years later, just like with Agent Orange, only a few sick soldiers are getting disability and those that are, are often given partial disability under the title's oc "CFS" or FMS" (Fibromyalgia Syndrome). on another Note, the infamous Dr. Lipkin was in San Francisco, during the HIV and AIDS outbreak in the mid 1980's and he COMPLETELY ignored, the equally devastating out break of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I believe that these are all ACQUIRED HPA axis disorders, where a toxic agent, be it a virus, prion, Bacteria or chemical toxin, crosses the blood brain barrier in susceptible individuals, usually, but NOT always, during a time of GREAT STRESS...and the result, especially in type A individuals is ...COMPLETE and UTTER dysfunction of their CNS and Immune systems, which leads to reaction of latent viruses, sleep dysfunction and various apneas, and then proceeds on to complete incapacitation for decades, if not a lifetime! more info at I fear saying anymore in public, because i don't want to DIE! these people are NASTY. and i have given all my info to more than 1 dozen people on four contintents and i instructed them to give it to Wikileaks, but to keep copies of everything on hard drives NOT connected to the internet, and if i happen to walk in front of a bus or train, it will NOT be an accident! Ciao for now! xo TMH

John Gilmore

Mady Hornig almost got Wakefielded as a result of her research on thimerosal and mice. It looks like the path she was offered to return to the orthodox fold was to hang Andy out to dry, which she did with Lipkin's help. Yet more of the amoral careerism that seems to be the primary motivating factor behind most of the credentialed professionals who are making such a god awful hash of just about everything.

Heidi N

Kent, you are an amazing writer! There is always a lot of detail! Just want to say that I believe a great amount of mainstream docs and scientists do side with Andy Wakefield, but are too afraid to say it. It's typical human behavior to dissociate yourself from whomever is getting the heat. In the many jobs that I have had, when someone was getting the heat, even though they were innocent, others avoided them so that they would not get the heat as well by association. Typically, they were solvable problems, but from time to time, people just seem to like to pick on each other rather than to solve problems. Likely, due to greed or jealously. Anyhow, just saying that we do need to be open-minded that sometimes people are doing the best they are allowed to do within the "system".


I have M.E. and came across this item recently which I put up on a CFS ME Forum. Scroll down to the end for Lipkin's comment. The work is not over....


In 1997, Five months before Dr. Wakefield published his MMR paper, he received a phone call in the "middle of the night" informing him not to speak at a conference in the United States...

Barbra Loe Fisher


LOL This is the first anyone has said Lipkin has received a threat. He should be able to confirm that if true. There is plenty of people saying that researchers with positive studies are being threatened so that they do not publish.

Lipkin is the name on the top of the study, but he is not testing any samples and is not in charge. That falls to the NIH under Collins and Fauci.

They have all managed to so far not confirm any details of the study design through an official channel, such as the NIH. Meaning anything can change including how they determine a positive. This is not in the best interests of patients or the public at all.

The clinicians who are taking part are all able to select people as they see fit. A number of them are well known fatigue doctors. Not selecting according to the Canadian criteria means the results cannot be expected to be the same as Lombardi et al. It is also a fact that of the labs taking part only Mikovits/Ruscetti are using clinically validated assays at this time, but with one big caveat. The collection, processing, coding/decoding and interpretation is not in their hands. All of those are also a part of an assays design. If they are not those methods in Lombardi then the study is not a replication study. And again a basic principle of science will not have been met. That should not be allowed to occur.

If the study was an attempt to "get at the truth" all labs would be forced to use the Lombardi assay as well as their own unproven ones. And tissue testing would be included, as MLV viruses are frequently not detectable in blood.

The false situation that the NIH has created around this study is the antithesis of science. They have not themselves tested the hypothesis of the two positive ME papers and are exposing the public.


Very interesting. It confirms for me, why the Leroy situation was very threatening for the medical/media groups. "Science"blogs didn't touch it. Thank God there are researchers who persist in the or understanding of these brain/CNS illnesses. It may he that there are now enough of them working on gut issues and PANDAS to turn back. Let's hope so; it's about time!

Theodore Van Oosbree

Another dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, once remarked, "If the whole world were covered in concrete, a single blade of grass would sooner or later break through."


I am thrilled that Ian Lipkin is now working on unraveling the biomedical aspects of autism, and to be so open minded and not afraid to handle hot potatoes.

He sounds very smart, very experienced, very driven to find the truth(s), very respected and very powerful. We desperately need someone of his calibre on our side.

I especially like that he has the combined expertise in infectious disease and neurology, that he discovered so many new infectious agents, and even witnessed the early AIDS epidemic and the damage HIV could do to the central nervous system at a time when nobody understood what was going on.

If one can begin to understand the complexity of autism, it must be Ian Lipkin!


Bob Moffitt

Havel on becoming a dissident:

"It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society."

Indeed, knowing of the consequences that befell Dr. Wakefield .. I have great admiration and appreciation for the similar research being conducted under the leadership of Dr. Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

"Children with autism, gastrointestinal symptoms have high levels of Sutterella in their gut"

"New research conducted in the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, reports that children with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances have high levels of a bacterium called Sutterella in their intestines.

"The investigators found that over half of the children diagnosed with autism and gastrointestinal disturbances had Sutterella in intestinal biopsy tissue, while Sutterella was absent in biopsies from typically developing children with gastrointestinal disturbances. Not only was Sutterella present in the intestines of children with autism, but relative to most genera of bacteria, Sutterella was present at remarkably high levels. Sutterella species have been isolated from human infections previous to this study, but it remains unclear whether this bacterium is a human pathogen.

"These findings shine a light on a bacterium about which we know very little, in a disorder for which we have few answers," says Brent Williams, PhD, the lead author on the study. "There is much work to be done toward understanding the role Sutterella plays in autism, the microbiota, infections, and inflammation"

The entire column is well worth reading .. as are others that google directs to.


Yes, we know that vaccines don't cause autism, just a neurological condition with autism-like symptoms. It has no name. How about "Bob"?


I took note of Lipkin's comments that it is the timing of the insult to the immune system along with genetics that determines what you get. Dr. Bill Walsh said the same thing at a DAN conference in 2002.

Sheila Darbyshire

Who threatened Dr Lipkin and why?????

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