The roots of an alarming increase in autism will never be discovered if powerful medical organizations continue to rule out potential causes without adequate research.
Last month, the Institute of Medicine issued a report that concluded there is no link between the mercury used as a preservative in some childhood inoculations and autism. That report was made in spite of pleas by some medical researchers that other studies were about to conclude that such a possibility exists.
Last week, Columbia University researchers said they had discovered such a possible link between the mercury preservative, thimerosal, and behavioral abnormalities in mice that have a specific genetic susceptibility.
As reporters Callie Clark and Bob Miller recently documented in a series of Southeast Missourian stories about autism, the possibility exists that only children with a certain genetic condition are likely to be affected by the small amounts of mercury in vaccines. The Columbia University study does not confirm that link, but it suggests more study is needed.
Rather than cut off valuable research that could provide important answers to the perplexing causes of autism, the medical and scientific community would do well to explore every possibility thoroughly.
Several medical groups have asked pharmaceutical companies to stop using thimerosal, since other preservatives that do not contain mercury are available.
If, indeed, it is confirmed that the combination of a genetic disorder and thimerosal can lead to autism, that knowledge would be enormously valuable to the prevention of a condition that changes the lives of those who are autistic and their families. Such research is worth the effort.