Agency drops plan to study chelation autism treatment

A government agency has dropped plans for a study of a controversial treatment for autism that critics had called an unethical experiment on children.

The National Institute of Mental Health said in a statement Wednesday that the study of the treatment – called chelation – has been abandoned. The agency decided the money would be better used testing other potential therapies for autism and related disorders, the statement said.

The study had been on hold because of safety concerns after another study published last year linked a drug used in the treatment to lasting brain problems in rats.

Chelation removes heavy metals from the body and is used to treat lead poisoning.

Its use for autism is based on the theory that mercury in vaccines triggers autism – a theory never proven and rejected by mainstream science. Mercury hasn't been in childhood vaccines since 2001, except for certain flu shots.

But many parents of autistic children are believers in the treatment, and the NIMH agreed to test it.

The researchers' had proposed recruiting 120 autistic children and giving half a chelation drug and the other half a dummy pill. The test would have measured before-and-after blood mercury levels and autism symptoms.

NIMH said it was likely that other research would “provide deeper understanding of the causes of autism and more refined avenues for developing treatments.”