Why could human DNA potentially cause brain damage? The way Ratajczak explained it to me: “Because it’s human DNA and recipients are humans, there’s homologous recombinaltion tiniker. That DNA is incorporated into the host DNA. Now it’s changed, altered self and body kills it. Where is this most expressed? The neurons of the brain. Now you have body killing the brain cells and it’s an ongoing inflammation. It doesn’t stop, it continues through the life of that individual.”
There’s only one phrase to describe this idea: The stupid, it burns. It sears. It scalds the skin off my flesh. It opoptoses my neurons. (Well, not really, over the last six years I’ve built up formidable defenses against such scientific ignorance.)
I have experience with working with DNA, human, mouse, and otherwise, including injecting it into tissues and trying to get it to express the protein for which it encodes. This is not a trivial matter. Think of it this way. If it were, gene therapy would be an almost trivial matter. But it’s not. In general, it’s difficult to induce human cells to take up foreign DNA in tissue. Even with viral vectors, it’s hard to get more than a small percentage of cells not only to take up the DNA but to express detectable levels of protein. Muscle is one tissue that can take up naked plasmid DNA and actually express it. Indeed, this technique has been used to generate cancer vaccines, where plasmid DNA is injected into the muscle in order to cause it to make a certain protein, which then provokes an immune response. But doing this is not easy, and the DNA is not detectably incorporated into the DNA of the muscle cells. Its gene expression is extranuclear (outside the nucleus).
But that’s not all. Even human cells that can take up random bits of extracellular DNA at very low efficiency (like muscle) do not integrate that DNA into their genome. Even if the DNA did reach the nucleus, recombination into the host genome would be both random and rare. Each cell would incorporate different bits of DNA into different locations in its genome. Does Dr. Ratajczak even know basic molecular biology? No, never mind. I think I know the answer to that one, and you do too.
But that’s still not all.
Dr. Ratajczak states that the DNA from vaccines is human DNA. Even if that human DNA did undergo homologous recombination, it would still be human DNA making human proteins. Yet Dr. Ratajczak claims that homologous recombination turns that cell into “altered self.” However, the body recognizes a cell as foreign or “altered” through the expression of its cell surface proteins. Consequently, the only likely currently known mechanism by which homologous recombination of human DNA from vaccines might conceivably result in such an autoimmunity phenomenon would be if the DNA from the vaccine somehow resulted in the expression of a foreign or altered protein on the cell surface that the immune system could recognize as foreign. That would mean either integrating into the gene for a cell surface protein or producing a cell surface protein itself. While not impossible, that’s pretty darned unlikely to happen on a scale that would affect more than a single cell, a few at most.
Let’s recap the implausibility of Dr. Ratajczak’s idea. (I refuse to dignify it with the appellation of “hypothesis.”) To do what Dr. Ratajczak claims, the minute amount of human DNA in a vaccine would have to:
Find its way to the brain in significant quantities.
Make it into the neurons in the brain in significant quantities.
Make it into the nucleus of the neurons in significant quantities.
Undergo homologous recombination at a detectable level, resulting in either the alteration of a cell surface protein or the expression of a foreign cell surface protein that the immune system can recognize.
Undergo homologous recombination in many neurons in such a way that results in the neurons having cell surface protein(s) altered sufficiently to be recognized as foreign.
That’s leaving aside the issue of whether autoimmunity in the brain or chronic brain inflammation is even a cause of autism, which is by no means settled by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s not at all clear whether the markers of inflammation sometimes reported in the brains of autistic children are a cause, a consequence, or merely an epiphenomenon of autism. In other words, Dr. Ratajczak’s hypothesis is incredibly implausible on the basis of what we know about molecular biology and human biology. It’s not quite homeopathy-level implausible, but nonetheless quite implausible. Even so, I’m willing to have my mind changed for me, but there’s only one thing that can possibly do that: Scientific data. Experiments. Clinical trials. Good ones. So I “went to the source,” so to speak, and actually looked at Dr. Ratajczak’s review article being touted by Attkisson to see what she actually said about homologous recombination of human DNA in vaccines as one cause of autism. Here is the sum total of what she said:
Data from a worldwide composite of studies show that an increase in cumulative incidence began about 1988-1990 (McDonald and Paul, 2010). The new version of the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (i.e., MMR II) that did not contain Thimerosal was introduced in 1979. By 1983, only the new version was available. Autism in the United States spiked dramatically between 1983 and 1990 from 4-5/10,000 to 1/500. In 1988, two doses of MMR II were recommended to immunize those individuals who did not respond to the first injection. A spike of incidence of autism accompanied the addition of the second dose of MMR II. Also, in 1988, MMR II was used in the United Kingdom, which reported a dramatic increase in prevalence of autism to 1/64 (noted above). Canada, Denmark, and Japan also reported dramatic increases in prevalence of autism. It is important to note that unlike the former MMR, the rubella component of MMR II was propagated in a human cell line derived from embryonic lung tissue (Merck and Co., Inc., 2010). The MMR II vaccine is contaminated with human DNA from the cell line. This human DNA could be the cause of the spikes in incidence. An additional increased spike in incidence of autism occurred in 1995 when the chicken pox vaccine was grown in human fetal tissue (Merck and Co., Inc., 2001; Breuer, 2003). The current incidence of autism in the United States, noted above, is approximately 1/100.
The human DNA from the vaccine can be randomly inserted into the recipient’s genes by homologous recombination, a process that occurs spontaneously only within a species. Hot spots for DNA insertion are found on the X chromosome in eight autism-associated genes involved in nerve cell synapse formation, central nervous system development, and mitochondrial function (Deisher, 2010). This could provide some explanation of why autism is predominantly a disease of boys. Taken together, these data support the hypothesis that residual human DNA in some vaccines might cause autism.
Later, she writes:
Other reports have also used prevalence data that support an association of the MMR vaccine with an increased prevalence of autism. Furthermore, an examination of the continuing increase in prevalence in autism in the context of the dates of spikes in increase in prevalence which point to the MMR II vaccine (which did not contain Thimerosal) suggests that something “new” caused the increase in incidence of autism. Changes in vaccine schedule occurred over the years such as changes in the age at which vaccines were given (Ramsay et al., 1991). These changes could contribute to the increases in incidence of autism. Another change was how some vaccines were propagated. The “new” component could be the human DNA from the preparation of the rubella component of the MMR II vaccine and the chicken pox vaccine. See “Changes in Rates of Autism Incidence” above. The United States Government and Dr. Geberding, Director of Vaccines at Merck & Co., Inc. say that autistic conditions can result from encephalopathy following vaccination (Child Health Safety, 2010).
I’m the sort of guy who’s data-driven. (I have, after all, chosen as my pseudonym the name of a Plexiglass box of blinking colored lights that is the most advanced computer in the entire galactic federation in an obscure 30-year-old British science fiction show.) If there were scientific data that convincingly suggested a hypothesis, even one as implausible as the one above, I’d think about it and possibly even conclude that this is an area worthy of investigation. There were no data presented, and it’s not as though it would be very difficult to find evidence of the type that would be needed to support Ratajczak’s ideas.
In fact, there weren’t even studies cited that convincingly supported Ratajczak’s assertions. That’s it? I was thinking as I read her article. That’s all she’s got? Seriously? I thought it was a joke; so I read the entire article again. Yes, that is all that she has got: Implying that correlation equals causation, combined with an observation that there are “hot spots” for DNA insertion in the X chromosome in some autism-associated genes. From that, she concludes that the existing data support the hypothesis that human DNA in MMR II could be at least responsible for the “autism epidemic” through homologous recombination in the brain resulting in autoimmunity and chronic inflammation? And she cites the anti-vaccine blog Child Health Safety as one of her references? The date of the CHS entry cited is June 30, 2010. All I could find was this entry, which purports to argue that both Merck’s Director of Vaccines and the U.S. government have admitted that vaccines cause autism all based on the long known science showing that a maternal case of rubella while carrying a fetus can result in autism in the child, something that’s been known for several decades and is in fact one reason why vaccination against rubella is so important. How on earth did this get through peer review. Obviously, the peer reviewers of Dr. Ratajczak’s article were either completely ignorant of the background science (and therefore unqualified) or asleep at the switch.
The rest of Dr. Ratajczak’s article is, as you might expect, a greatest hits collection of anti-vaccine hypotheses, speculations, ideas, and brain farts mixed with the occasional–and I do mean occasional–grain of scientifically supportable hypotheses regarding autism. The vast majority of what is discussed, however, is pure vaccine pseudoscience. The scientifically unsupported idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism? It’s there. The work of the tag team of Geier père et fils, the same team who came up with the idea of chemical castration as a treatment of autism that “works” because according to them testosterone binds mercury, making it easier to chelate? Copiously cited. True, Ratajczak doesn’t specifically cite the Geiers’ unethical clinical trial testing Lupron as a treatment for “precocious puberty” and autism, but she does cite the “scientific” basis that the Geiers used to justify that trial, as well as a lot of the Geiers’ usual execrable studies linking mercury in vaccines with autism. Mitochondrial dysfunction, which has been co-opted by the anti-vaccine movement as an “explanation” for how vaccines supposedly cause autism? It’s there too. She even cites David Ayoub, who is known for thinking that black helicopters are watching him. In other words, her review is 95% pseudoscientific garbage, maybe 5% reasonable science. On second thought, I’m clearly being generous.