Thermonuclear stupid about vaccines from someone other than Jenny McCarthy

This may be the burningest stupid I’ve ever seen about vaccines. Maybe. It’s so hard to tell given how much idiocy I’ve seen about vaccines.

I know, it’s really, really hard to believe me when I say that what follows deserves to leap right up to the top ranks of brain-melting moronicity. After all, over the last four years, I’ve delved into the deepest, darkest chasms of pure anti-vaccine stupid. I’ve subjected myself to the incredible idiocy that is Jenny McCarthy and Kent Heckenlively. I’ve delved into the most vile cesspits of anti-vaccine propaganda, cesspits so full of misinformation and lies that the foul stench threatens to permeate my brain and make me stupid too. I’ve done all of that, all just for you. Even so, I’ve never come across anything quite this dumb. We’re talking beyond black holes of stupid here. This is such a toxic mix of anti-vaccine lunacy and religion that I just don’t know what to do with it.

Meet Theresa Deisher, Ph.D. She thinks that aborted fetal DNA in vaccines is linked to autism. She is also a hypernova throwing out enough burning stupid to vaporize a galaxy and cleanse it of all science, reason, and intelligence.

I’m going to skip the standard boilerplate rhetoric about the “autism epidemic.” True, Deisher seems to accept the science that shows that thimerosal in vaccines does not cause autism. It’s not because of science or reason that she appears to accept that science, however. It’s because she apparently thinks something else is the cause, something that she is crusading about, something about which she drops a stinkbomb of brain-sucking stupidity over:

Today, more than 23 vaccines are contaminated by the use of aborted fetal cells. There is no law that requires that consumers be informed that some vaccines are made using aborted fetal cells and contain residual aborted fetal DNA. While newer vaccines produced using aborted fetal cells do inform consumers, in their package inserts, that the vaccines contain contaminating DNA from the cell used to produce the vaccine, they do not identify the cells as being derived from electively aborted human fetuses. (See the Varivax–chicken pox–package insert for the presence of MRC5 residual DNA.)

In other words, they tell you what is in the vaccine, but they don’t fully inform you where it came from. The earliest aborted fetal cell-produced vaccines such as Meruvax (rubella) and MMR II do not even inform consumers that the vaccines contain contaminating DNA from the cell used to produce them. Furthermore, it is unconscionable that the public-health risk of injecting our children with residual contaminating human aborted fetal DNA has been ignored.

Oh, no! Not…DNA! (Cue scary music, perhaps with a Theremin and everything.) The horror! Why is it so horrible? Because it came from aborted human fetuses! Well, not really, but in Dr. Deisher’s addled reasoning it did! I also have to wonder just what it is about having come from an “aborted fetal cell” that makes this DNA so powerful that it gives children autism. Maybe it’s homeopathy all over again; maybe the original cell line was derived from an autistic child, and the DNA has “memory.”

Maybe I should give up trying to understand this level of paranoia.

In any case, here we go again. Before I charge into some the flames of stupid burning the house of Deisher’s brain down in the hope of rescuing some rationality, let me just reiterate yet again what she, like many anti-vaccinationists, is referring to. The viral stocks used to make some vaccines are grown in human cells. These cells were derived from aborted fetuses back in the 1960s and 1970s and have been propagated in cell culture continuously ever since. It’s a huge difference between the famous lie of the anti-vaccine movement, parroted by Jenny McCarthy, that there are “aborted fetal parts” in vaccines. As I have pointed out, even the Roman Catholic Church, although disturbed by this fact, does not advocate foregoing vaccination for this reason. It recognizes that these cells are not fetal parts, that using them does not encourage abortion, and concludes, “There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good” and “It should be obvious that vaccine use in these cases does not contribute directly to the practice of abortion since the reasons for having an abortion are not related to vaccine preparation.” In other words, although it advocates pressing pharmaceutical companies to find ways of producing vaccines that do not require the use of these cell lines–specifically, WI-38 (isolated in 1962 from lung fibroblast cells) and MRC-5 (isolated in 1966, also from lung fibroblast cells)–it does not tell Catholics not to vaccinate because of the use of these cells.

Now, on to the stupid (well, more of the stupid; the above was pretty darned stupid in and of itself):

How could the contaminating aborted fetal DNA create problems? It creates the potential for autoimmune responses and/or inappropriate insertion into our own genomes through a process called recombination. There are groups researching the potential link between this DNA and autoimmune diseases such as juvenile (type I) diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus. Our organization, Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, is focused on studying the quantity, characteristics and genomic recombination of the aborted fetal DNA found in many of our vaccines.

Preliminary bioinformatics research conducted at SCPI indicates that “hot spots” for DNA recombination are found in nine autism-associated genes present on the X chromosome. These nine genes are involved in nerve-cell synapse formation, central nervous system development and mitochondrial function.

Ugh. First off, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, strictly from the standpoint of a temporal correlation. After all, these cell lines were derived over 40 years ago. If there was a correlation between DNA from these cells in vaccines and autism (or any other of the problems blamed on vaccines), wouldn’t it have started decades before the early 1990s, which is the time anti-vaccinationists peg as the start of the vaccine-induced “autism epidemic.” It also doesn’t make a lot of sense from a genetic standpoint, either. The reason is simple. the genetic alterations that are associated with autism are not acquired. They are in the germline. Children have these genetic differences right from the time their parents’ egg and sperm unite to form an embryo. They do not acquire them after they are born, and it’s almost as improbable as homeopathy to think that somehow a tiny bit of DNA from a human cell line could somehow enter enouth cells and somehow recombine in these “hot spots” in such a way to affect the entire nervous system of the organism.

Indeed, from a strictly physical standpoint, this is pretty ridiculous. Vaccines are injected intramuscularly, and any contaminating DNA that might be present doesn’t go very far. If it goes anywhere into the body, it’s the muscle cells nearby, which can take up DNA in a functional form. Indeed, I know this from direct experimental experience. Back when I was a graduate student, one of our projects was to inject plasmid DNA into rat muscle and determine whether we could get reporter gene expression appropriately regulated by the promoter controlling the gene. Finally, if Dr. Deisher’s saying that nanogram quantities of DNA can provoke a severe autoimmune response, she has to explain why this doesn’t happen every time a person undergoes significant trauma (i.e., as bad bruise) and releases DNA from his own damaged cells. If it’s because the DNA is foreign, then it doesn’t understand why this doesn’t happen frequently from the many viruses humans are exposed to each and every day or after a blood transfusion. Or what about childbirth? There is almost always some mixing of fetal blood with the mother’s blood upon childbirth, meaning that the mother is exposed to fetal DNA from white blood cells and monocytes in the fetal blood. Why is it that mothers don’t all get anti-DNA autoimmune diseases after childbirth?

Such a linkage between DNA being introduced into the body and autism or autoimmune diseases is–to put it as politely as possible–pretty freakin’ improbable. No, it’s not impossible, but, as they say, some data would be nice. Given the improbability of the hypothesis, in fact, a lot of data would be nice. I suspect I will be waiting a long time.

Not that that stops Dr. Deisher from confusing correlation with causation:

SCPI, a group that educates the public on the use of aborted human fetal material for drug production, warns that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines introduced to the US and UK in 1979 and 1988 respectively, were produced using aborted fetal cells, while previous versions were made using only animal cells. This switch coincides with what SCPI says are “dramatic” increases in the rates of regressive autism in children, in which the child’s social and verbal development halts.

The stupid, it burns. In fact, I think I want to go and get a beer or two. My hope is that it will protect my neurons from the apoptosis-inducing waves of stupid that emanate from everything Dr. Deisher says about vaccines. How this woman got a PhD in molecular biology, I’ll never know.

So why is Deisher making such ridiculous claims? Who is she? She describes herself on her company’s website thusly:

Dr. Deisher is an internationally renowned expert in the field of adult stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine, bringing 17 years of practice in senior scientific and corporate leadership positions concerning research, discovery, production and commercialization of human therapeutics. Tracy has earned numerous prestigious honors and awards for her pioneering scientific discovery and her distinguished scientific research has resulted in 23 patents issued in her name with such illustrious biotech organizations as Amgen, where she was named Principal Scientist, ZymoGenetics, Repligen and Immunex.

Stem cells. It had to be stem cells.

I wanted to see what sort of publication this “internationally renowned expert” had generated; so I did a PubMed search. What did I find? Only 19 publications, all in low to mid-tier journals. Hardly the material of an “internationally renowned expert.” She does have a number of patents, along with others, but none of them appear to be related to vaccines or stem cells. Indeed, most of them look to be gene patents, in which a gene, DNA sequences, or various homologs were patented, as biotech companies often try to do. Again, there doesn’t appear to be anything there to suggest expertise in vaccines.

More interestingly, Dr. Deisher appears to be pulling an Andrew Wakefield on us:

A biotech firm has announced it will offer ethical alternatives to some of the vaccines that currently rely on the use of fetal tissue form abortions. The Seattle-based AVM Biotechnology says it will produce ethical alternatives in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and vaccine development.

The news gives hope to pro-life people who have been reluctant to use some vaccines because their development came as a result of the destruction of unborn children.

“We will be working to bring commercially available, morally acceptable, vaccines to the US market and to use existing technology to produce new morally certified vaccines,” says Dr. Theresa Deisher, the research and development director for AVM.

AVM stands for, by the way, Ave Maria, although the surgeon in me can’t help but think “arteriovenous malformation” when I see those initials.

In any case, there’s nothing like having a competing set of vaccine products to motivate one to find reasons to tear down the existing vaccines by any means necessary. Moreover, lest anyone doubt that the motivations for this are purely religious rather than scientific, get a load of what Dr. Deisher has said about “tainted knowledge“:

Deisher hopes to avoid even treatments developed with tainted knowledge — knowledge derived from research using aborted fetal material, such as embryonic stem cells.

“It would be like using the research results on hypothermia from Nazi Germany that involved murdering people,” she said.

Where’s the Hitler Zombie when you need him?

One thing that’s very clear, it’s that Dr. Deisher is working from a religious viewpoint rather than a scientific one. Indeed, check out this interview with her in Celebrate Life! magazine. In it, she describes falling away from Catholicism in college because of an unnamed “traumatic experience” and then having another traumatic experience while in graduate school that brought her back to the faith. She clearly has the zeal of the “reconverted,” so to speak and lambastes embryonic stem cell research while touting adult stem cell research and lamenting the evil of using those human cell lines to make vaccines.

Another thing I have to wonder is this: If Deisher is so against the use of “fetal cells” to do anything and can’t abide using “tainted” knowledge, how on earth is she going to make any progress? After all, knowledge about how to isolate and manipulate adult stem cells depends upon knowledge gleaned from studying embryonic stem cells, which depends upon…well, studies of embryonic stem cells, which would be anathema to her because they are evil in her eyes. Is she going to start from scratch to figure out adult stem cells? Then there’s the issue of vaccines. Dr. Deisher may be able to make vaccines by growing viruses in other cell lines besides the ones that she views as the fruits of evil, but how can she be sure that she isn’t using knowledge derived from culturing cell lines derived from human fetuses.

She can’t.

Not that it matters, though. Her strategy panders to the anti-vaccine movement and super-religious conservatives at the same time. Indeed, I grudgingly have to admit that it’s brilliant, from an anti-vaccine PR perspective–except for the fact that the anti-vaccine movement doesn’t really care if “fetal parts” are removed from vaccines because it’s the vaccines they oppose. Still, it may make Dr. Deisher some money. What more could she ask for?