Government Says Chelation Study on Autistic Children Would Be Unethical

July 18, 2008 12:22 PM
by Cara McDonough
A government agency has abandoned a study on chelation, a process that removes heavy metals from the body. Some parents believe the treatment is a miracle cure.

A Controversial Topic

Parents who have had success with the practice, as well as some government researchers, had pushed for research on chelation, but the National Institute of Mental Health said Wednesday that a planned study has been cancelled and that the funding for it would be better used testing other autism therapies.

For the study, researchers proposed recruiting 120 autistic children and providing half with a chelation drug and the other half a placebo. The 12-week test would measure before-and-after blood mercury levels and autism symptoms, according to the Associated Press.

Using chelation to treat autism is tied to the idea that mercury in vaccines cause autism, a theory unproven by scientific research. Chelation is normally used to treat lead poisoning.

Safety concerns also played a role in NIMH’s decision
to cancel; last year a study linked chelation to brain problems in rats.

Researchers had been given permission to go ahead with the study in 2006 but a number of concerns raised since have swayed the NIHM to cancel it, the agency said in a statement released this week, as reported by Reuters: “In February 2007, based on new scientific data, an NIH Institutional Review Board reassessed the risk-benefit ratio of the proposed study. The board determined that there was no clear evidence for direct benefit to the children who would participate in the chelation trial and that the study presents more than a minimal risk.”

Many parents of autistic children claim chelation is a miracle treatment and had pushed for the study. Several scientists, however, have openly praised the NIHM’s decision.

“Suppose that a child suffers a severe side effect from chelation,” said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of “Autism’s False Prophets,” a new book on autism research. “Without any evidence it’s helpful, I think it’s unethical.” Some parents already practice chelation at home with or without a doctor’s supervision and could continue to do so, despite a lack of scientific information on the practice, as the chelation drugs used can be found in some health food stores.

At least one child’s death has been linked to chelation therapy.

Opinion & Analysis: Chelation critics and supporters

Background: Boy dies following chelation treatment

Related Topics: Many aspects of autism still a mystery

Reference: Chelation, vaccines and autism


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