By Anne Dachel
June 26, 2012, the New York Times published the story, Autism Research Hindered by Scarcity of Brain Samples, by Benedict Carey. HERE It was about the loss of 150 brain specimens used for research due to a freezer malfunction. A number of them were the brains of individuals who had had autism.
Carey wrote, "The loss, while a setback for scientists studying disorders like Huntington's disease Alzheimer's and schizophrenia, especially mortified those working on autism, for it exposed what is emerging as the largest obstacle to progress: the shortage of high-quality autopsied brains from young people with a well-documented medical history."
Carey included top experts Dr. Geraldine Dawson from Autism Speaks and Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach, director of life sciences at the Simons Foundation, which promotes autism research.
Fischbach was quoted saying, ''There's just no question that human tissue is the gold standard for research. You absolutely need it to answer some very basic questions.'
Dawson said, 'This is indeed a setback, but it has motivated us more than ever to rebuild this precious resource.'
On the surface, it looks like a real effort is being made to study autism and these human specimens are important for finding the answers. However, anyone looking into the people involved in Carey's story will see it's clear the research is very controlled and guaranteed to tell us nothing about what's happening to our children. The Times used the incident at the Harvard brain bank to again promote the idea that autism is a genetic disorder and if we could just find the gene malfunction---we'd understand autism. In fact, genetics is the only research mentioned in connection with the brains from autistic individuals.
So what have we learned about autism from these specimens up to this point? Carey couldn't tell us. I knew from the start that a story by NYT science reporter Benedict Carey that included Geraldine Dawson and Gerald Fischbach was sure to say nothing about vaccines as causal factors.
I've written about all three of these individuals in the last year and a half.
Jan 23, 2012, I wrote the piece, DSM-5: You're Still Autistic. You're Just Weird. You We're Not Sure About. Call Us Tomorrow, HERE about the changes to the DSM.
I noted what Carey said about the changes to the DSM. "Let's try to clarify this picture. There's no blood test for autism. There's no blood test for any psychiatric diagnosis. These are judgment calls made by therapists. In recent years, the rate of diagnosis has been going up very quickly. I think there's some concern there too. Not just for funding issues. Make sure we know what we have. Is this definition clear enough? I think that's partly what the work group is trying to do is to be clearer about what defines this diagnosis. What is autism or autism spectrum and what is something else? A sort of social awkwardness-whatever you want to call it."
Carey's clearly someone who's still not sure what autism even is.
(And back in Jan, 2010, I included another of Carey's NY Times stories where he talked about the one in 150 autism rate: HERE He wrote, "Prevalence estimates for these disorders have increased so sharply in recent years - to 1 in 150 in 2007, from 1 in 300 in the early 2000s - that scientists have debated whether in fact the disorder is more common, or diagnosed more often as a result of higher awareness." He gave us lots of reasons not to panic about the latest autism numbers and he didn't include any experts or officials who were worried.)
Carey is also someone who's long proclaimed that vaccines aren't linked to autism--all the science he's looked at says so. HERE
He's consistently given us in-depth coverage of the latest genetic mutation linked to autism. HERE
And back in Mar 2012, Carey was quick to explain that the new rate of one in 88 might still be just be "heightened awareness" and "an expanding definition of the spectrum." HERE
FEB 18, 2011: The Next Really Big Lie About Autism HERE
I wrote, "Dr. Gerald Fischbach of the Simons Institute is a member of the IACC and he's made a name for himself recently going on the record saying that there's no possibility of a cure for autism. And on another panel discussion, Fischbach talked about why he's sure that vaccines don't cause autism. See video: He announced, "Mercury has been removed from the vaccines since 1987.and the autism reported prevalence is on the rise. I believe the reported prevalence .is due to wider recognition, broadening of the criteria." He believes it's just one big coincidence when autism happens after vaccinations.
"Fischbach cited the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual changes that he claims account for the skyrocketing increase in autism. "I believe the prevalence was just as high twenty years ago, just not recognized. I don't believe there's something that's happened in the environment."
"Fischbach may have meant to cite a date other than 1987 for the removal of mercury, but he completely rejects the idea that autism has had any increase at all. This man is a member of the committee that is supposed to be doing something about autism and he sees nothing wrong when a million kids have autism and no knows why."
On June 4, 2012, I included Dr. Dawson's remarks made during an NPR interview. HERE
She said this about vaccines and autism, 'If vaccines play a role, and there has not been any evidence thus far to show that it has, it would be with a very small minority of individuals who have an underlying medical condition where the vaccine may have triggered an onset of symptoms for an already existing condition or vulnerability. So we do not believe that vaccines are an explanation for the increase and we strongly encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.'
Why is the brain bank failure anything to really worry about? Two experts who don't have answers in a piece by a science reporter who sees no real increase in the disorder was just one more of the pointless stories we're all so accustomed to from the NYT. What were these specimens ever going to prove when Autism Speaks runs the Autism Tissue Program housed at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center and their Chief Science Officer isn't interested in looking at the link between vaccine injury and autism?
What would the brain bank specimens really be used for when people like Fischbach are still pretending there's been no real increase and that genetics is the way to study the disorder?
I think Carey's piece was intended to make it seem that someone somewhere is doing something to address a health care disaster that no official can reasonably explain. It's hard to imagine how this loss will "hinder" autism research. No one even mentioned the claim by tens of thousands of autism parents that their children were born healthy and were developing normally until they received certain routine vaccinations. Whatever secrets these brain specimens might have revealed about the cause of autism were lost even before the freezer failure.
Footnote: What caused the freezers to fail?