Friday, January 29, 2010

Fall of ‘dishonest’ doctor who started MMR scare

Note that the crap was published in "Lancet" -- another reason not to trust that once-fine journal

The doctor who sparked a worldwide panic over the MMR vaccine could be struck off after being found guilty yesterday of a series of misconduct charges related to his “unethical” research. Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 claimed an unfounded link between the vaccination and autism, “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children, subjecting them to unnecessary, invasive tests, a hearing found.

The General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that he abused his position of trust as he researched a possible link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism in children. It found that Wakefield and two colleagues acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in carrying out research on children against their best interests and without official permission.

The GMC ruled that Wakefield, who was working at the Royal Free Hospital in London as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or qualifications to oversee the study, which involved children undergoing colonoscopies, lumbar punctures, barium meals and brain scans. He was also found to have brought the medical profession into disrepute after taking blood samples from youngsters at his son's birthday party in return for payments of £5 and failing to disclose vital conflicts of interest.

He received £50,000 to carry out the research on behalf of solicitors acting for parents who believed that their children had been harmed by MMR, but could not account for how at least half this money had been spent. He also did not declare any conflict of interest to The Lancet medical journal, which published the research.

The GMC found the charges against Wakefield, and the professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch were “sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct”.

But as he delivered the verdicts, Dr Surendra Kumar, the panel’s chairman, was repeatedly heckled by distraught parents who support Wakefield and his former colleagues. One woman shouted: "These doctors have not failed our children. You are outrageous." She called the panel of experts "b******s" and accused the GMC of being a "kangaroo court". All three doctors deny any wrongdoing.

The study prompted a massive drop in the number of children being vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. Uptake of the MMR vaccine was 91 per cent before 1998, but by 2003 this had fallen to 79 per cent. In 2008 there were nearly 1,400 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales — compared with 57 in 1997 — and nearly a dozen deaths had been officially linked to the illness. Subsequent studies involving millions of children found no evidence of a link between MMR and autism.

The hearing sat for 148 days over a two-and-a-half year period, at a cost to the GMC, funded by doctors, of more than £1 million. It is the longest running medical misconduct case in the Council’s 147 year history.

Before yesterday’s hearing, 12 organisations, including the Medical Research Council, the British Medical Association and Faculty of Public Health, released a joint statement reaffirming their confidence in the jab. “The undersigned believe that the MMR triple vaccine protects the health of children,” they said. “A large body of scientific evidence shows no link between the vaccine and autism.”


Simple blood test 'could help predict rheumatoid arthritis years before symptoms appear'

A simple blood test could help predict if someone is developing a crippling form of arthritis years before symptoms appear, scientists believe. The breakthrough could allow patients to be treated earlier, helping to prevent some of the painful diseases most devastating effects.

More than 600,000 people in Britain are thought to suffer from the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the joints. It can leave sufferers disabled and in agony.

Studies have shown that patients who receive early treatment are likely to be more active and have less chance of having to have had a joint replaced than other sufferers.

Researchers from University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, believe that they have now developed a way to help predict that a patient will develop the disease, even before they start to feel pain. “These findings present the opportunity for better predicting the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and, therefore, possibly preventing disease progression,” the team write in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Diagnosis of the illness can be difficult as symptoms can typically start off mild. In the early stages the disease can also mimic other illnesses, including lupus and osteoarthritis, the other form of arthritis, which is caused by wear and tear of the joints.

Scientists have found higher levels of certain proteins, part of a group called cytokines and secreted by immune system cells, in the blood several years before patient’s symptoms develop. These proteins are known to be heightened when patients suffer from the full-blown disease and treatments which tackle them have been effective, but scientists said that it was significant that there were raised years before patients developed any pain. The team analysed blood samples from 86 patients, which were taken before their symptoms developed. They compared these with samples taken from 256 people who did not have the disease.

A spokesman for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society said: “We welcome the publication of this study, which adds to the growing body of evidence that people who go on to develop rheumatoid arthritis could be identified before symptoms develop. “This is important because early diagnosis and treatment we know from other research is hugely beneficial in stopping people going on to suffer disability or need a joint replaced.”

However, Prof Alan Silman, from Arthritis Research Campaign, said: “This is of great scientific interest as it sheds more light on the early development of rheumatoid arthritis, but the practical significance is probably quite limited as doctors would not want to intervene in the absence of any symptoms.”



Liz Ditz said...

One of my blogging habits is to collate pro and con posts on a particular issue.

One reason to do is that each blog has its own set of commenters and often the comments reveal aspects of the issue previously not considered elsewhere.

Today's issue is the UK's General Medical Council's ruling on Andrew Wakefield.

I've included this post in the list.

The list can be found at

Term Papers said...

Appreciated post!