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Retracted: Study that claimed to show vaccine-autism link

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A paper from the Shaw lab at the University of British Columbia, which claims to link aluminium used in vaccines with the up-regulation of autism-causing genes in mice, is due to be retracted from the journal of inorganic biochemistry.

Aluminium is used as an adjuvant in vaccines. Adjuvants stimulate the immune response to improve the body’s immunity to the target pathogen.

Scientists across the world have identified serious flaws in the study and its data. Citing:

Methods and dosing regimens that do not mimic vaccinations in humans

Use of outdated an inaccurate data collection and analysis methods

Use of incorrect statistical tests for the data analysis

Funding from private foundations that question vaccine safety -suggesting a financial conflict of interest

This is not the first time a study from this group has been retracted and refuted by the scientific community. Previously the World Health Organization has called two of their papers that claimed to link aluminium in vaccines to autism spectrum disorders “seriously flawed”.

As Beth Mole describes in her article for Ars Technica, contributors on Pub Peer, the online journal club, have highlighted gross data duplication and manipulation in this study, suggesting the authors have seriously faked their research.

Speaking to Beth, group leader Christopher Shaw accepted and acknowledged problems with the data: 

“We don’t know how some images in the manuscript came to be altered. We investigated when the first suggestions came out in Pub Peer and confirmed that some of the images had indeed been manipulated. We don’t know by whom or why. The first author, Dr. Dan Li, denies doing anything wrong, but has not provided any information about this inspite of repeated questions from us. We are continuing to pursue these questions, but as she is now at another institution, we can’t force her to comply.”

Despite the blatant misrepresentation in this study. There is hope for greater understanding of the genetic underpinnings of autism as a breakthrough Whole Genome Study from Evan Eichler’s group at the University of Washington, recently sequenced the genomes of 516 autistic children. They have discovered a new genetic signature for the condition that can improve diagnosis of autism and better direct research.

Learn more: breakthrough for autism research  

As for vaccine safety, the advice from the World Health Organization is clear, vaccines are safe and effective. They prevent between 2-3 million deaths a year, and increasing their uptake and use globally could prevent a further 1.5 million deaths. #VaccinesWork