Despite the sterling efforts of the media, Dr Andrew Wakefield and his research into a link between the MMR vaccine and autism just won't go away.
Dr Wakefield had put forward the theory in 1998 that the vaccine might cause a reaction in the gut that could lead to autism. For his troubles he was invited to give up his position at the Royal Free Hospital in London, he has faced trial by media, and he has had to explain himself to the medical regulators.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, he left the UK for Texas, where he is continuing his research at the Thoughtful House Center for Children. Sadly, the main point of his work - that there may be a causal link between gut disorders and autism - got lost in the furore over the vaccine, and yet it's something that may provide an invaluable insight into autism and its progress.
Dr Wakefield has just published a new study that adds weight to the theory, irrespective of the part played by the MMR jab. The new study involved 178 children who suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. Around 140 of the children also had autism, and most had regressed after normal early development.
Only the children with autism had inflammation of the intestinal lining, and the degree of swelling of the intestinal lymph glands was also more severe. The study also dispels the old medical myth that swollen lymph glands are 'normal' in children.
"The results of this study give us additional clues on understanding what is going on in the gut and how it may lead to the brain disorder. The findings of this new study add to the clear evidence of a novel and treatable disease of the intestinal immune system in children with developmental disorders. These are medical diseases, which should be treated as such. This study, in combination with previous work, raises the possibility that treating bowel disease may alleviate some of the symptoms of autism itself," said Dr Wakefield.
His theory, which is becoming increasingly likely with every study, could offer genuine hope for autism sufferers, and their parents and carers. For which he will doubtlessly be pilloried.
(Source: European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, August 2005, and http://www.thoughtfulhouse.org/pub_06.htm)