New link between MMR and autism
(Filed: 27/06/2002)

Autism may have been triggered by the MMR vaccine in about one in ten sufferers, according to new research.

Paul Shattock, director of Sunderland University's Autism Research Unit, said his unpublished study of 4,000 cases suggested that was the case.

He stressed more research was needed into the link between the disease and the controversial triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

But he said: "The evidence is strong. It is not absolutely conclusive - that is our main demand. We do need to know for certain whether these things are connected."

Urinary samples from the 10 per cent of children whose parents blame their condition on the jab were very different from samples provided by the 90 per cent whose parents did not think there was a link, and there were other differences, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There are three things. First of all, the clinical differences. The children appear subtly different to typical forms of autism," he said.

"The clinical history is different for the children and there are biological markers we are finding in the urine of the children which are different."

Compounds found in the urine of this sub-group could be caused by "the infection of measles in the intestines", he said.

However, Mr Shattock added: "The method of analysis we have been using is fairly crude. It is plus or minus 10 per cent, say. We now have a method which will tighten up on that and give a very accurate result."

Dr Peter Dukes, of the Medical Research Council, stressed that independent studies had given "strong, positive evidence" that there was no link between MMR and autism.

"What we are missing, we have been advised by the experts, is that understanding the biology that might be associated with that link is currently very weak," he told Today.

"MRC would really encourage Paul Shattock both to publish their research and to come forward to us at the MRC with positive proposals for research and, indeed as Paul said, to strengthen his methodology and make alliances with the kind of experts in epidemiology and psychiatry that can help him produce really strong proposals."

Dr Dukes continued: "Weak evidence often gets considerable currency in the media and what is important about Paul's kind to study is we need to understand whether his interesting observations in the 4,000 children relate particularly to autism or a sub-group of autism.

"And so the kind of expertise I hope he is looking to bring in to his work will help him choose the right kinds of children without autism with whom to compare the children with autism."