Tag Archives: mark geier

The Big Picture: Assessing Neurodevelopmental Disorders

While much of science centers on the “little things,” sometimes big picture perspectives are essential for understanding trends, patterns, and the root cause of health conditions. Such is the case when we talk about neurodevelopmental disorders, which have been increasing in prevalence over the course of the last few decades. While neurodevelopmental research on conditions like autism have primarily focused on genetic causes, scientists conducting this research have yet to make truly significant breakthroughs, nor have they been able to explain how a population’s genetic predisposition for a disorder like autism could increase so rapidly within a few generations.

It’s for this reason that scientists Mark and David Geier have studied the potential environmental causes of neurodevelopmental disorders, and their “big picture” epidemiological assessment of neurodevelopmental disorder individuals over the course of six years—from 1994 to 2000—offers up convincing evidence that the sharp increase in neurodevelopmental disorder diagnoses the United States has witnessed isn’t the result of more genetic mutations.

The Geiers’ assessment involved compiling data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a large database that collects information on individuals that experienced adverse effects after receiving vaccines. The Geiers’ looked at a database focused on vaccine adverse events because their previous research had shown that vaccines had the potential to increase an individual’s risk of developing autism. Specifically, vaccines that contained the toxic mercury-containing compound Thimerosal demonstrated a causal relationship to a child’s risk for developing autism. By looking at a large sample study over the course of a protracted period of time, the Geiers would now be able to contribute even more credibility to their findings.

So just what did their big picture assessment turn up?

The Geiers used data from the VAERS database to make comparisons on varying criteria. First, they identified the number of children who developed neurodevelopmental disorders after receiving DTaP vaccines that contained Thimerosal (which were administered between 1994 and 1997), to the number of children with neurodevelopmental disorders that received DTaP vaccines without Thimerosal (which were administered between 1997 and 2000). The same comparison was conducted with the DTPH vaccine, which combined the traditional Thimerosal-containing DTP vaccine with the HiB vaccine, which also contained mercury.

In making these two comparisons using an accepted framework for statistical analysis, the Geiers found there to be significant statistical evidence of a relationship between cases of neurodevelopmental disorders, and children who received a vaccine that contained Thimerosal, noting that children who received doses of vaccines that didn’t contain Thimerosal had a much lower number of reported neurodevelopmental disorders. The relationship between Thimerosal-containing vaccines and the risk for neurodevelopmental disorder was evident even when tested against each of the seven individual categories of common neurodevelopmental symptoms

The Geiers thus have shown that existing research on the risks of Thimerosal simply can’t be disregarded; when such apparent relationships appear over the course of many years, using vast sample sizes from individuals throughout the entire country, there’s no doubt that closer attention ought to be given to the subject. The numbers don’t lie.

Is Autism a Neurodegenerative Disorder?

How does autism affect the brain? This is a question that’s motivated researchers in pursuit of understanding the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for years. We already know that ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to communicate, interact socially, comprehend, and behave the way neurotypical individuals do. However, pinpointing ASD’s root cause may be aided by an exploration into the neurodegeneration hypothesis. This hypothesis, which suggests that ASD can be regressive, stems from reports that some autistic children acquired neurological impairments after certain skills were developed. In other words, rather than being born with the inability to communicate, interact, and comprehend in a typical fashion, children can acquire these skills and then lose them. This regression suggests that development is somehow interrupted, rather than impaired from birth. ASD regression is said to affect anywhere between 15% and 65% of individuals on the autism spectrum. Whether autism can be officially considered a neurodegenerative disorder has remained under debate.

Recent research from David Geier, Mark Geier, Janet Kern, and Lisa Sykes probes deeper into the neurodegeneration hypothesis in their 2013 paper, “Evidence of Neurodegeneration in the Autism Spectrum Disorder.” According to the researchers, when synthesizing an array of related research, it can be determined that there is enough credible evidence to conclude ASD can be a neurodegenerative disorder.

To start, widespread post-mortem evaluations of individuals with ASD demonstrate that these individuals experienced a loss of neuron cells (a defining characteristic of neurodegeneration). It’s also been found that individuals with ASD have fewer neuron cells and pyramidal cells in their amygdala than control subjects. Further, the role of microglia, non-neuron cells that maintain homeostasis in the body and can contribute to the development of other neurological disorders, may also point to neurodegeneration in ASD individuals. Studies have found that these microglia can be responsible for the dissolution of neurons, and can also produce toxic cytokines that can damage neurons and lead to neurodegeneration.  Findings from a number of recent studies support the hypothesis that microglia activation could be evidence of degeneration, given that many regions of the brain with activated microglia, most prominently the cerebellum, were found to be inflamed in those with ASD.

The toxins that can be released by microglia activation, which include nitric oxide, reactive oxygen species, and a number of proinflammatory cytokines, also point to neurodegeneration. These inflammatory cytokines have been found to be present in other neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis, yet have in appeared in the spinal cords and brains of those with ASD, too. An increase in the production of ROS (reactive oxygen species), is also prominent in neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as ROS ultimately results in the loss of neuron cells. As with individuals of these neurodegenerative disorders, those with ASD also maintain high levels of cell death as a result of oxidative stress.

Studies have also revealed that an oxidative stress damage marker that appears in the brains of those with neurodegenerative disorders, 8oHdG, appears at 63% higher levels in those with ASD than in control subjects.

While “Evidence of Neurodegeneration in Autism Spectrum Disorder” presents compelling evidence that ASD can in fact be considered a neurodegenerative disorder, as the researchers assert, its link to toxic exposures must also become more widely studied and accepted. Prolific research has suggested toxins can trigger the onset of ASD, yet this research has been largely dismissed by institutions like the World Health Organization because ASD is not currently classified as a neurodegenerative disorder. With additional research and awareness, this may soon change.