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O'Leary denounces collaborator Wakefield as clouds gather over Dublin pathologist

This page is research from an investigation by Brian Deer for The Sunday Times of London and the UK's Channel 4 Television into a campaign linking the MMR children's vaccine with autism. | Go to part I: The Lancet scandal | Go to part II: The Wakefield factor

As the story unfolded, the next collapse in the MMR pack of cards would be Professor John O'Leary of the Coombe women's hospital, Dublin, who wrote this letter as the investigation continued

Dear Mr Deer

I refer to our exchange of emails on 12th February last and felt it would be mutually beneficial if I gave you some further detail in relation to the issue which I understand you are investigating. I begin by categorically stating that as far as our research group is concerned and to the best of our knowledge, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has never funded us. For the record, Unigenetics Limited has undertaken a testing service on behalf of the LSC, which was a very separate piece of work, commissioned in early 2000 towards the latter end of our Molecular Pathology paper research work. To avoid any conflict between research and this testing service, we established a hospital based campus company Unigenetics Limited. At the time of writing I cannot confirm the fees paid for this testing, but will consult with our accountants and endeavour to do so. I should also emphasise that I personally have not been paid anything directly by either the Legal Aid Board or by the LSC, although I did receive fees from Unigenetics Limited for the testing services I provided to that company and for reports.

For clarity and for the record, I think it is relevant to detail the chronology of events that led to our research and the publication of our Molecular Pathology paper and separately to explain the testing I refer to. Before I do so, I wish to also state that we were shocked by the revelations in the Sunday Times. We were not made aware, nor were we aware, of any liaison between Dr. Wakefield and Mr. Richard Barr of Alexander Harris Solicitors that apparently existed since 1996. In addition, we had never been informed that the LSC had funded Dr. Wakefield.

At no time have I set out to prove that MMR causes autism. Instead, I have sought to investigate a novel bowel pathology in children with autism. In our Molecular Pathology paper we have described an association between the presence of measles virus and new variant inflammatory bowel disease. We have never claimed that this is causal and indeed I have been forthright in transmitting this information to the public at large in the form of press statements. I have and continue to urge people to vaccinate their children. My advices and findings were consistently and persistently to vaccinate children and to use MMR.

The chronology of events concerning my research that led to the publication of our Molecular Pathology paper is as follows: -

Dr Andrew Wakefield visited me in Cornell University early in 1998.

At that time, he showed a series of gut biopsy slides from patients he was researching and who had autism.

He asked me whether I had seen anything like this before and I had not.

I returned to Ireland in July 1998, and we began a research collaboration with Andrew Wakefield’s group based at the Royal Free Hospital in February 1999.

The funding agencies contributing to that research were, to the best of our knowledge, those detailed in our publication which appeared in Molecular Pathology in April 2002, as advised to us by Dr Wakefield. We were not informed that he was in receipt of funding from the LSC or Alexander Harris since 1996, nor did our enquiries reveal that.

The body of research continued until we submitted the manuscript to Molecular Pathology in 2001.

I was not paid by the LSC or the Legal Aid Board to perform this research or to publish this paper. I have always acted as an independent researcher.

The paper was accepted by Molecular Pathology in November 2001 and it was published in hard copy in April 2002.

After publication of this paper and the subsequent media interest in it, I issued a press statement stating that children must be vaccinated with MMR. In addition, I stated that I never suggested a link between MMR and autism, and indeed MMR is not mentioned in the paper. I also requested the media to accurately report the research and to allow the debate to be carried out in the scientific press.

Dr Simon Murch, a co-author on the original 1998 Lancet paper states in his most recent communication to the Lancet (February 14th 2004) “ John O’ Leary has spoken in support of MMR and has been scrupulous not to overstate these early findings.”

I wish to state categorically that as far as our research group was concerned and to the best of our knowledge, the LSC did not fund the research reported in Molecular Pathology and in that regard no conflict of interest existed.

However, revelations in the Sunday Times (February 22nd 2004) suggest that Dr Wakefield was in receipt of LSC funding since 1996. If these allegations are substantiated, then I believe that this source of funding/conflict of interest should have been declared in the Molecular Pathology paper. Clearly, since I did not know of the LSC funding to Dr Wakefield since 1996, in spite of having made the appropriate inquiries about funding, de-facto there could not have been a conflict of interest on my part. Indeed, my advice given in press statements was/is contrary to the hypothesis that MMR causes autism.

In any presentations since the publication of the Molecular Pathology paper (April 2002) we have made it clear that some of the patients who were part of the Research programme, which led to the said paper, were also potential litigants.

The chronology of events concerning the testing carried out by Unigenetics Limited of which I am a Director and Shareholder is as follows: -

As an acknowledged laboratory for low copy gene detection, we were approached in early 2000 by Alexander Harris to perform tests on peripheral blood samples and gut biopsies from children with autism.

To avoid any conflict of interest between research and this testing service, we established a hospital based campus company (Unigenetics Limited). I was not under instruction from Richard Barr, Alexander Harris or the LSC in relation to the research being performed.

The testing continued until late 2003 and reports were provided to Alexander Harris and to the UK Court on our findings. These did not support the MMR/autism hypothesis.

I trust that this demonstrates that there was no conflict of interest on my part and anything written or published to the contrary would be libellous and untrue.


Yours sincerely,



John O’Leary

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