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Rapid response to:


Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 06 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7452

Rapid Response:

Re: Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent

I would like to further point out to Richard Bartley [1] that Prof Walker-Smith's research in this field pre-dates even the non-specific findings of Mary Coleman of 1975 that Bartley cites from Brian Deer's website, with a publication in the Lancet in 1972 [2].

In his autobiography Walker-Smith is very clear about the relationship between his earlier and later work [3]:

"When all this began, I did not know much about autism, although serendipitously I had studied a group of children with autism at RAHC [Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children], Sydney as I mentioned earlier. I had undertaken a study to determine whether a group of autistic children with bowel problems had coeliac disease. At that time in the late sixties and early seventies, many autistic children had been reported to have bowel problems and anecdotally there had been reports of benefit from a gluten-free diet. This study was published in 1972. My study of seven autistic children with bowel problems had used diagnostic small intestinal biopsy. It had excluded coeliac disease, but in a letter to the Lancet, we reported the finding of low levels of alpha-one-antitrypsin in the blood of these children. This low level was later found in other patients to be due to a leak of this protein from the gut. This occurs in disorders where there is a general protein loss, as I had studied years earlier at Prince Alfred. They included patients with inflammatory bowel disorders. Looking back on this work it now seems I was biopsying the wrong part of the gut. I should have biopsied the colon rather than the small intestine, as we were to do twenty three years later. Since I left Sydney in 1972, I had had no further contact with autistic children until 1995."

[1] Richard Bartley,'Re: Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent' 13 March 2013

[2] John Walker-Smith , Judith Andrews 'Alpha-1-antitrypsin, autism, and coeliac disease', Lancet 2:7782 1972 Oct 21 p. 883-4

[3] John Walker-Smith, 'Enduring Memories' 2nd Edition, The Memoir Club 2012, p. 211-2

Competing interests: Autistic son

15 March 2013
John Stone
UK Editor
London N22