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U.S. National Institute of Mental Health Director Backs Unproven Autism Treatment Testing

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The director of U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, pressured by the anxious parents of children with autism, is advocating testing chelation therapy as a treatment for the little-understood neurological disorder, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Chelation therapy aims to purge the body of heavy metals. Its use in children with autism is based on the unproven notion that mercury in the vaccines is responsible for cases of the disorder, the AP reported. With the exception of certain flu shots, mercury hasn't been used in pediatric vaccines since 2001.

NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel told the wire service that he supports testing the therapy on autistic children. "So many moms have said, 'It's saved my kids,'" he said.

Several thousand children are already believed to be using the therapy, despite its fringe status. The drugs are relatively easy to get, some being marketed as dietary supplements, the AP reported.

Safety concerns over chelation have postponed the government testing for now, Insel said. One of the drugs used in the process, called DMSA, can have adverse effects including low white blood cell count and rashes. Research also has shown that the process may shift metals from elsewhere in the body to the central nervous system, the AP reported.

In adults, chelation has proven ineffective unless there are high concentrations of metals in the blood, the wire service said.

Austim describes a variety of disorders that affect victims' ability to communicate and interact. There is no proven cure.

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