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The Tribune hits the trifecta

January 16th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Kudos

The story sounds too lurid to be true – ignoring FDA regulations, a retired chemistry professor takes a chemical used to treat toxic waste, and repackages it as a dietary supplement for disabled children. Welcome to the world of autism quackery.

The story in tomorrow’s Chicago Tribune is the latest in a year-long investigation into America’s anti-vaccine movement, and its spin-off treatment industries. Last May the newspaper introduced us to a Maryland physician who purports to treat autism with Lupron, a powerful castration drug also used to treat sex offenders. In November, reporters Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan showed how alternative practitioners misrepresent legitimate science, and use phony lab results, to push quack autism treatments. “There is a whole industry that preys on people’s fears of heavy metal poisoning,” said Dr. Carl R. Baum, director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Toxicology at Yale- New Haven Children’s Hospital, something that comes as no surprise to the nation’s 60,000 pediatricians.

The latest story introduces us to Prof. Boyd Haley, a retired former head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky, and a micro-celebrity in the vaccine-rejection community. His wonder-drug, called OSR#1, was first formulated as an industrial chemical that separates heavy metals from polluted soil and mining drainage. Haley first repurposed the chemical as a chelating agent for treating autism, but when FDA approval was not forthcoming, he rebranded OSR as a nutritional supplement. Only one problem – the FDA says food supplements must be, uh, edible.

No wonder Haley runs from publicity he can’t control.

Federal law requires manufacturers to explain why a new dietary ingredient reasonably can be expected to be safe. The Food and Drug Administration told the Tribune that Haley had not submitted sufficient information.

In an interview, Haley said that the compound had been tested on rats and that a food safety study was conducted on 10 people. Asked to provide documentation of the studies, he stopped communicating with the Tribune.

Experts expressed dismay upon hearing children were consuming a chemical not evaluated in formal clinical trials for safety, as would be required for a drug prescribed by doctors.

Ellen Silbergeld, an expert in environmental health and a researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health studying mercury and autism at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she found the sale of the chemical as a supplement for children “appalling.”

“I would worry a lot about giving anything to a small child that hasn’t been scrutinized for both safety and efficacy by the FDA,” said antioxidant expert Dr. L. Jackson Roberts, a pharmacologist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The anti-vaccine movement has always relied on message control to convince parents that vaccines were more risky than the diseases they protect us against, and for too long credulous editors and reports obliged with dutiful stenography and false balance. The Tribune’s coverage shows us that those days are past.

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mike Stanton // Jan 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for an excellent summary. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Trine Tsouderos is besieged by an angry mob and could use a posse of positive comments here.

  • 2 Club 166 // Jan 16, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for the link, Mike.

    It’s great that the Trib is getting this right.

    Joe

  • 3 Kwombles // Jan 17, 2010 at 7:29 am

    Nice work, Ken!

  • 4 isles // Jan 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Perfect summary. Thanks to the Tribune for seeing autism quackery for what it is – a way for unethical entrepreneurs to exploit (and possibly injure or kill) autistic kids.

  • 5 Do'C // Jan 17, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    “The Tribune’s coverage shows us that those days are past.”

    I hope you’re right. It is a breath of fresh air, though.

    Great summary!

  • 6 Autism Blog - The Tribune leads the way on autism coverage « Left Brain/Right Brain // Jan 20, 2010 at 4:36 am

    [...] at AutismNewsBeat.com 2 people like this post. [...]

  • 7 Autism Blog - Another hit job from AoA « Left Brain/Right Brain // Jan 21, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    [...] AgeOfAutism has identified the sister of the Chicago Tribune reporter, in apparent retaliation for a scathing article about diet supplement entrepreneur Prof. Boyd [...]

  • 8 Sullivan // Jan 26, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Over 400 comments later–and they have proved Trine Tsudorous’ point—OSR appears to be a “stealth” product. Marketed as an antioxidant, but the customers know it is a chelator.

    I don’t know what is worse, both sides pretending it isn’t a chelator, or CTI withholding the fact that it is a chelator from parents.

  • 9 Prometheus // Jan 27, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I don’t think that CTI is “witholding” the fact that “OSR” is a chelator from parents.

    True, the name (“Oxidative Stress Relief”) and the promotional literature don’t mention chelation, but that’s only to keep them out of trouble with the FTC and FDA. It’s along the lines of how condoms initially had to be sold “to prevent disease” even though the majority were used for contraception. The condom makers didn’t “withold” the information about contraception, they simply couldn’t mention it because of the legal and regulatory tone of the times.

    Even before CTI was formed – even before “OSR” was marketed – there was a concerted effort to “hype” the “new chelator” that Boyd Haley was “developing”. I first noticed it about a year before the “official” announcement that “OSR” was available.

    As a marketing strategy, the way “OSR” was introduced was brilliant! The demand was pumped up for at least a year before the product was available, with Boyd Haley “leaking” tantalizing hints about his “new chelator” and disparaging the “old” chelators like DMSA and DMPS.

    Morally, I think that CTI and Boyd Haley are in the same position as the Black Knight at the end of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (i.e. without a leg to stand on). They are promoting a chemical as a “dietary supplement” that has not been adequately tested and – unlike real “dietary supplements” – has no “track record” to back the claims of safety. If any harm results from their product, they should be held strictly accountable.

    It is strange that the same groups that howl about how vaccines haven’t been adequately tested are willing to give Boyd Haley a free pass on his “dietary supplement”. I’d think that the cognitive dissonance would be agonizing.

    Prometheus

  • 10 silky sienna // Jan 31, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Humans evolved for millions of years without vaccines. They are not mandatory to life. They do not keep you alive. The concept is to prevent death, from disease. Not to inject an altogether different disease!
    And if injecting babies and toddlers is dangerous, with massive doses of vaccines over a short period of time, why not seperate them and spread them out? It just makes logical sense to me.
    You are all so angry and so convinced you are right about the value of vaccines, but what if YOU ARE WRONG? Wakefield and his supporters, myself included, are not asking people to poison their children, but suggesting you DO NOT POISON KIDS with group shots. We don’t need a vaccine to live. It is a gamble, a roll of the dice. I had MUMPS as a child. I had MEASLES as a child. And I had AUTISM, too. Having those childhood diseases didn’t kill me.
    It is a radical gesture on your parts to support the vaccine rollette, when the percentage of deaths related to measles is lower than the percentage of kids getting autism from vacines. In New Jersey, it stands at 1 in 94.
    If a parent can see a child change after the vaccine, then it was the vaccine. You are people who spend a lot of time and effort trying to block that simple fact, with a flurry of science and information, rage and outrage, against those who simply saw a horrible reality enter their lives after the MMR vaccine.
    If I had a baby today, I would no way fuckin vaccinate it. Not with MMR. But odds would be, she’d get autism anyway, from me. Which is why I opted to never have children. This condition absolutely sucks, in more ways than I care to discuss, and for me to have a baby and probably pass on autism, well that is as cruel and thoughtless as having sex with someone you like without protection, knowing you have AIDS, and then giving your lover AIDS.
    The courts are wrong about Wakefield. The world was wrong about Jesus too (not comparing Wakefield to Jesus here, but mob mentalities), and they killed him, over what amounted to religious politics. The Wakefield debate is medical politics, thats all. Almost a manic backlash, a mob mentality, driven by the fear that people won’t get vaccines, then everyone will die.
    It needn’t be that extreme. There is a middle balance. Check to identify genetic risk factors for childfren before administering vaccines such as MMR, then seperate the shots, spread them out over time. Maybe the labs that made the vaccines fucked up. It is an artificial solution created in a lab by humans, and therefore suject to human error. Why don’t you focus on that aspect of what a vaccine is, instead of blasting one doctor for showing evidence of a problem.

  • 11 autblog // Jan 31, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    If a parent can see a child change after the vaccine, then it was the vaccine.

    Do you object to being called “anti vaccine”?

  • 12 Prometheus // Feb 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Silky Sienna states:

    “If I had a baby today, I would no way fuckin vaccinate it. Not with MMR. But odds would be, she’d get autism anyway, from me.”

    Curious.

    If autism is caused by vaccines, then it isn’t inheritable – right? That’s what the “vaccines-cause-autism” promoters claim, although a few of them “hedge” by claiming that autistic children have a “genetic susceptibility” to something (not otherwise specified) in the vaccines.

    So which is it? Is autism inheritable – as “silky sienna” claims – or is it caused by “poisons” in the vaccines – as “silky sienna” claims?

    Like many in the general public, “silky sienna” is conflating two “causes” of autism. This is where having a modest grasp of biology would come in handy.

    If autism is purely genetic – meaning that if you have the genes for autism, you become autistic regardless of “environmental exposures” – then we shouldn’t see any difference in autism prevalence between children who were vaccinated and those who were unvaccinated (which is what the few studies looking at this have found).

    On the other hand, if autism is purely “environmental” – meaning that the environmental exposure would cause autism regardless of your genetic makeup – then we should see no autism in the “unexposed” (in this case, “unvaccinated”) group and all autistic people would be in the “exposed” group. We don’t see this – there are plenty of unvaccinated autistic individuals.

    In the third case – autism is an environmental exposure acting on a genetic susceptibility – then we still shouldn’t see any autism in the “unexposed” group, which, as I’ve already mentioned, isn’t true.

    So, the data so far suggest that autism is a genetic disorder with no discernible environmental influence.

    This doesn’t mean that some small fraction of autistic people can’t have an environmental influence on their autism, but nobody has shown that, yet.

    So, before we do something rash – like stop vaccinating – let’s see the data that suggest vaccines are even correlated with autism prevalence. Until then, the previous studies showing vaccine safety stand.

    Prometheus

  • 13 Pullingthewool // Feb 27, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    This site is pointless. What are you fighting for? Vaccines are what the mainstream does… Only a small portion of the public “gets it.” So what battle do you have. Measles, Mumps, German Measles. I had Measles and guess what I didn’t die… Fearmongering is what BigPharma relies on. The picture of Dr. Wakefield with Brian Deer next to him after the court proceeding absolutely tells the complete story. Wakefield an innocent man who tried to help, Brian the Devil. Wakefield looks Christlike. The public got what they wanted and who cares about the families of these autistic children. Brian Deer doesn’t. Have you seen the interviews with that pompous pig? YES, Autism can be passed on because the person carrying the child has so much mercury and toxins in her body from dental fillings, flu shots, childhood vaccines. This is reason older women have more of a chance of having a child with Autism. We simply have more mercury in our teeth, and in our bodies from vaccines and foods and water. We are about to see a spike in Autism as never before. Our children are filled with mercury, aluminum, lead, HFCS, DDT and more! We cannot stop it-the damage is already done. The greed will not stop. Ever seen the mercury vapors from a dental filling? Just rubbing an eraser on the filling brings on tons of vapor which is ingested and the baby inside the mother also is exposed. Stop closing your eyes!

  • 14 David N. Brown // Feb 27, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Let’s go over a few things:
    1. Vaccines are the least profitable of pharmaceuticals.
    2. There are no actual or alleged “toxins” in vaccines that could not be absorbed in much larger quantities from other sources.
    3. The trend of increase in autism (most pronounced in ca. 1990-1995) has been completely independent of changes in the vaccine schedule.
    4. Wakefield is a narcissistic sociopath who abused the courts to censor his critics.

  • 15 autblog // Feb 27, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I’m glad you didn’t die from the measles. Since the people who did die of measles and other preventable, infectious diseases aren’t around to tell their stories, I guess I’ll have to.

    I’ve seen the “amalgam” video. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to suspend my own disbelief long enough to enjoy it nearly as much as you seem to have. Better luck with the sequel.

  • 16 Sullivan // Feb 28, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Wakefield’s science is right because he looks like Christ. Got it. I guess he only need submit his headshot next time he submits a paper and they won’t need peer review?

  • 17 autblog // Mar 1, 2010 at 7:11 am

    Maybe his Lancet article will be resurrected in three days.

  • 18 FDA Steps Up to the Plate on OSR#1 « Countering… // Jun 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    [...] crack cured autism, you’ll be behind because they recovered their child? As Ken writes at Autism News Beat, this new story by Tsouderos is the latest in the Tribune’s series of potentially dangerous, [...]

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