Friday, January 10, 2014

Cure Autism Now Foundation (CAN), 1995-2007

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I did an informal poll of current supporters of science and public health -- that is, advocates for vaccines -- and almost all were entirely ignorant of the Cure Autism Now Foundation, which merged (or disappeared) into Autism Speaks. So here is a background post.

Cure Autism Now (CAN) was founded in 1995 by Jonathan Shestack and Portia Iversen, parents of a child with autism.

According to a May 2003 press release:
The Cure Autism Now Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and funding autism research and accelerating the pace of scientific progress toward effective treatments and a cure. The organization is the largest private funder of biological research in autism, providing more than $10 million in grants since its inception in 1995.
While not as stridently anti-vaccine as some other individuals or organizations listed in this Encyclopedia, in 2001 CAN founder Johnathan Shestack sent an open letter to Marie McCormick, M.D., Sc.D.,  then the chair of the Immunization Safety Review Committee for the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, which was widely distributed as a press release.
Mercury is a known neurotoxin with the potential to cause severe developmental deficits in even the smallest amounts. We feel that the Institute of Medicine must take a leadership position in making sure that thimerosal is removed immediately from all new vaccines, and, in addition, old stock containing thimerosal should be recalled.
Furthermore, for the sake of scientific truth, better treatments for people with autism and public confidence in federal vaccination policy, we believe it is essential that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommend further research to ascertain, once and for all, the potential link between thimerosal and the rising incidence of autism. If a link is found, then further research must be directed at clinical efforts for mercury toxicity remediation."
Shestack said these recommendations are "conservative, compassionate and reasonable" in light of the great public interest. Cure Autism Now, which is based in Los Angeles, California, and is comprised of scientists, clinicians and parents of autistic children, has issued and generously funded a Request for Proposals (RFP) specifically on the role of mercury in autism etiology. 
CAN was as of 2007, still supportive of the idea that vaccines could somehow cause autism.  In an October 10, 2007 press release:
Cure Autism Now believes the Institute of Medicine's recent report, which rejects a causal link between MMR and thimerosal-taining vaccines and autism, is premature and should not be considered definitive. The IOM report unfortunately places greater emphasis on population-based epidemiologic studies using statistical analyses than on existing and emerging biological data from studies of individuals with autism which present biological mechanisms that may indicate a causal relationship. Cure Autism Now is aware of at least 15 ongoing studies, some of which are funded by CAN, that explore the potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism and believes these should be given serious consideration before a final verdict is made.
In On Feb. 1, 2007, CAN announced that it would be combining operations with Autism Speaks.

CAN pioneered the idea of community-based "walks for autism" under the umbrella of the now-defunct website, Walknow.org.  The walkathon idea was taken over and expanded by Autism Speaks following the merger.

Individuals associated with Cure Autism Now, 1995-2007:
  • Portia Iversen, founder
  • Jonathan Shestack, founder
  • Peter Bell, CAN CEO at the time of the AS merger 
  • Sallie Bernard, Executive Director of SafeMinds, board member of national CAN Foundation; Executive Director, New Jersey CAN (2001)
  • Albert Enayati , Secretary, SafeMinds; president of New Jersey CAN
  • Heidi Roger, Treasurer, SafeMinds treasurer of New Jersey CAN (2001);
  • David S. Baskin, MD, FACS , Scientific Director, SafeMinds;  member of the CAN Scientific Review Committee
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