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Medical journal withdraws flawed autism study

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

British medical journal The Lancet says it has retracted a flawed study linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism and bowel disease.

The Lancet published the controversial paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues in 1998.

British parents abandoned the vaccine in droves, leading to a resurgence of measles. Subsequent studies found no proof the vaccine is connected to autism.

Ten of the study's 13 authors renounced the study's conclusions, and The Lancet has previously said it should never have published the research. "We fully retract this paper from the published record," its editors said in a statement on Tuesday.

Wakefield and two colleagues face being stripped of their right to practice medicine in Britain.

The United Kingdom's General Medical Council (GMC) concluded last week that Wakefield participated in "dishonesty and misleading conduct" while he conducted the 1998 research.

Most of the findings against Wakefield are breaches of standard ethical codes meant to keep bias out of scientific journals.

According to one of the findings against the doctor, Wakefield took blood samples from children at his own child's birthday party, and paid them five British pounds for their trouble.

The study created a firestorm, with most scientists on one side, and parents on the other side - supporting Wakefield.

In Britain, the number of children who were not vaccinated tripled after the report.

A similar dropoff was recorded in the United States. Although the United States officially reported no measles in 2000, the decline in vaccinations exposed more children, and resulted in an outbreak in 2008.

The GMC panel also cited Wakefield for an ethics breach because he wrote that the children involved in the case report were referred to his clinic for stomach problems, when Wakefield knew nearly half of the children were actually part of a lawsuit looking into the effects of a measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Some children didn't have stomach issues at all.

The GMC also found that Wakefield failed to disclose he was paid in conjunction with the lawsuit, or that he had a patent related to a new MMR vaccine in development when he submitted the 12-child case report to be published in a scientific journal.

In April, the GMC is scheduled to decide whether these breaches constitute "serious professional misconduct" and if so, how Wakefield will be reprimanded or whether he will lose his license.

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