Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Profile: Dr Andrew Wakefield

Dr Andrew Wakefield
Dr Wakefield stands by his findings

The suggestion that there is a link between MMR and autism has been one of the biggest health controversies of recent years. But just who is the doctor behind the headlines?

Dr Andrew Wakefield was the lead author of the controversial study, which suggested there may be a link between MMR and autism and bowel disease.

The study, which was published in 1998, saw Dr Wakefield leave his NHS job and become a pariah of the medical profession.

Andrew Wakefield was born into a family of doctors in 1957. His mother was a GP and his father was a neurologist.

He studied medicine and spent the early years of his professional career in Canada, qualifying in 1981.

He specialised in surgery and became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1985.

More research

Dr Wakefield worked as a transplant surgeon before heading back to the UK in the late 1980s, where he decided to devote more of his time to research.

In the early 1990s, he was working as a senior lecturer at the Royal Free Medical School in north London.

He had published a number of studies which he suggested showed a link between measles and Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.

By the mid-1990s, Dr Wakefield had started to consider whether there was a link between the three-in-one MMR vaccine and autism and bowel disease.

His study focused on tests carried out on 12 children who had been referred to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead for gastrointestinal problems.

At the same time, Dr Wakefield was paid to carry out another study to find out if parents who claim their children were damaged by the MMR vaccine had a case. Some children were involved in both studies.

The Lancet says it was not informed of this and that together they represent a potential conflict of interest which would have led it to reject the paper.

When the study was published, Dr Wakefield joined other colleagues who had been involved in the research at a press conference at the Royal Free Hospital.

Most agreed that further research was needed and that parents should continue to have their children vaccinated with the three-in-one jab.

However, Dr Wakefield suggested that parents should opt for single jabs against mumps, measles and rubella instead.

His comments and the subsequent media furore led to a sharp drop in the number of children vaccinated against these diseases.

Resignation

In 2001, Dr Wakefield resigned from his £50,000 a year NHS post, after 14 years in the job.

It came just one month after he was made a fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in recognition of his research work.

Speaking at the time, he said: "I have been asked to go because my research results are unpopular."

Dr Wakefield has since worked for the International Child Development Resource Center.

The centre, based in Florida, is associated with the Good News Doctor Foundation, a Christian ministry.

He has also continued to see patients at the Thoughtful House, a centre for autistic children in Texas, where he is currently the executive director.

Dr Wakefield remains adamant that the scientific results of his 1998 study are still valid.

In a statement, he said: "The clinical and pathological findings in these children stand as reported."

He also welcomed the decision by the General Medical Council to examine how he carried out his research.

"I not only welcome this, I insist on it," he said.



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SEE ALSO
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30 Aug 07 |  Health
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16 Jul 07 |  Health
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