Letters More secrets of the MMR scare

Who saw the “histological findings”?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7892 (Published 07 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7892
  1. Brian Deer, journalist1
  1. 1London, UK
  1. briandeer.com

We recently added to our series “Secrets of the MMR scare” with more on the claim that Wakefield and colleagues discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease.1 This was one of two sides to the infamous Lancet paper—the other linking the vaccine with autism.2

The paper said that “histological findings” of colitis were made in 11 of 12 children. “Formalin fixed biopsy samples of ileum and colon were assessed and reported by a pathologist (SED),” it explained. “All tissues were assessed by three other clinical and experimental pathologists (APD, AA, AJW).”

“SED” was Susan Davies, now at Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge, who was the project’s lead pathology consultant. At Wakefield’s General Medical Council (GMC) hearing she said she generally didn’t find “colitis,” raised concerns about use of this word, but was reassured by a “research review.”3

“APD” was Amar Dhillon, a Royal Free pathology professor. Responding to my report, he confirmed using “grading sheets” (which we published) and said he too didn’t report colitis.4 “the purpose of my grading sheet observations in 1998 was not, could not have been, nor was it intended to conclude the final diagnostic assignment of colitis,” he says.

Wakefield was “AJW,” and he denies everything—even his paper’s statement that he “assessed” the biopsies. All he did, he told GMC counsel was “look over” pathologists’ shoulders “to learn.”

Which leaves “AA”—Andrew Anthony, now at Hillingdon Hospital, west London. At the time, he was a trainee, as he was eight years later, and the Legal Services Commission says he received £57 000 (€66 350; $89 460) for his help.5

So let’s clear this up. Was it one junior doctor who made the “histological findings” that snagged those tasty authorships in the Lancet? Or, as with the Loch Ness monster, did everybody know somebody who vouched for the observation but nobody saw it themselves?


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7892


  • Competing interests: BD’s investigation led to the GMC hearing referred to here.