A Letter from Cure Autism Now's Board Chair and CEO
Autism, autism, autism. It has permeated everything. We have read and heard the word "autism" from so many people and in so many news articles lately, it is difficult to imagine a time, not so long ago, when "autism" was rarely uttered--an obscure behavioral disorder of medical and societal insignificance.
Forty years ago, those few experts who thought about autism said it was the result of emotional neglect by parents. Today, many people, experts and otherwise, think about autism, and we hear streams of words and phrases flowing into a kaleidoscope of increasing complexity and confusion: lifelong disorder...effective treatment...genes identified...environmental trigger...vaccine-mercury link...desperate parents. Ironically, as our understanding of the disorder has progressed and society has felt a growing sense of urgency about it, autism has become one of the most controversial issues in this country. With the recent news coverage of the autism-vaccine debate, we are reminded how divisive the urgent business of understanding autism can be, and we are saddened by it, because the lives of many children and adults are at stake.
As parents of children with autism and advocates who have dedicated our lives to solving this mystery and improving quality of life for all individuals affected by autism, we are compelled to make a statement about where our organization stands on this issue. Our goal in making this statement is to show that when emotion and rationality meet, progress comes faster. We at Cure Autism Now are passionate about helping human beings affected by autism as quickly as possible. We are also grounded in science and the critical importance of valid research. We believe that with a rationally based, comprehensive research agenda, continuously fine-tuned as new findings arise, good science can be hurried.
From the research carried out thus far, it appears that there may be many causes of autism. The current sense within the scientific community is that autism can involve a complicated set of interactions among underlying genetic susceptibilities and environmental factors, which results in a collection of biological and behavioral conditions we term "autism." Thus, it is clear that an effective autism science agenda requires study across several biological domains, including behavioral, genetic, and environmental disciplines.
For this reason, the impact of environmental factors on the biology of autism is one of the many critical research areas identified by Cure Autism Now for funding. Cure Autism Now has and is supporting research that explores the specific effects of environmental agents on the development of autism and the biological pathways that may be involved. These studies have and will continue to address many environmental candidates of interest, including the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, used in vaccines and other medical products. (For specific examples of environmentally-related research projects funded by Cure Autism Now, please
Because of the potential link between mercury and autism, Cure Autism Now has taken an active stance against the use of thimerosal in vaccines and continues to advocate for responsible public policy:
We know that mercury is a potent developmental toxicant even at low exposures and should not be injected into the human body. Cure Autism Now supports federal and state legislation to prohibit the administration of vaccines containing more than a trace amount of mercury to children under the age of three or pregnant women. Such legislation has passed in the states of California, Missouri and Iowa. Similar legislation is pending in New York.
More scientific evidence is needed to definitively prove or disprove the role of thimerosal in the development of autism. In May 2004, Cure Autism Now rejected the conclusions of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that unilaterally dismissed causal links between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. We found their findings to be premature and called for more research in this area.
Cure Autism Now is leading a national effort to establish a coordinated response to autism that fully integrates studies on environmental factors into autism research at the NIH. The Combating Autism Act of 2005, recently introduced into both Houses of Congress, provides for expanded funding of Centers of Excellence within the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which focuses on environmental toxins and human health. (See notice below re: an opportunity for input into the NIEHS 2006 Strategic Plan). Cure Autism Now looks forward to working with these centers. The legislation also specifies inclusion of toxicological and immunologic studies within the Centers of Excellence overseen by the NIH, specifically the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institute of Mental Health.
Our message is that Cure Autism Now is working to protect future generations from the onset of autism while attacking the challenges facing the current generation. We go to work each day knowing that every 20 minutes, another family receives the news that their child has autism and will soon embark on a journey many of us began 10 years ago, five years ago, a year ago. We are advancing autism research on all promising fronts, because a comprehensive program that does not exclude important fields is how autism will be solved and effective treatments found.
With autism, autism, autism everywhere, the continued support and trust of the autism and scientific communities and the public at large are more critical than ever. If we look beyond the divisiveness and put those we love above all else, autism may once again become a word rarely uttered, an obscure but explained disorder consigned to medical history books.
Chief Executive Officer