Fringe Autism Treatment Could Get Federal Study

The Associated Press is reporting that the NIH is being pressured by desperate parents who are pushing them to test an unproven treatment on autistic children, a move some scientists see as an unethical experiment in voodoo medicine. The treatment removes heavy metals from the body and is based on the fringe theory that mercury in vaccines triggers autism — a theory never proved and rejected by mainstream science. Mercury hasn’t been in childhood vaccines since 2001, except for certain flu shots.

My Take?

In my book on Alternative Medicine, I have a chapter evaluating intravenous chelation therapy and conclude it “should only be used in cases of heavy metal poisoning where objective tests validate the presence of toxic levels of specific metals. The risks for other uses of intravenous chelation or any use of oral chelation are not warranted in light of the lack of evidence for the therapy’s effectiveness. The evidence against its effectiveness in heart disease is so clear that its continued provision raises serious ethical questions. The therapy is very expensive and can be very lucrative for providers.”

Nevertheless, the ongoing claims of parents that chelation has helped their children demands, in my opinion, that the study be done.

Frustrated parents use more than 300 alternative treatments, most with little or no scientific evidence backing them up, according to the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Md.

More than 2 percent of the children tracked by the project use chelation. If that figure holds for the general population, it would mean more than 3,000 autistic children are on the treatment at any time in the United States.

The AP reports, “Dr. Martin Myers, former director of the federal National Vaccine Program Office, said he believes giving chelation to autistic children is unethical — but says the government can justify the study because so many parents are using chelation without scientific evidence. It’s incumbent on the scientific community to evaluate it.” 

I agree.