New American research shows that there could be a link between the controversial MMR triple vaccine and autism and bowel disease in children.
The study appears to confirm the findings of British doctor Andrew Wakefield, who caused a storm in 1998 by suggesting a possible link.
Now a team from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina are examining 275 children with regressive autism and bowel disease - and of the 82 tested so far, 70 prove positive for the measles virus.
Last night the team's leader, Dr Stephen Walker, said: 'Of the handful of results we have in so far, all are vaccine strain and none are wild measles.
'This research proves that in the gastrointestinal tract of a number of children who have been diagnosed with regressive autism, there is evidence of measles virus.
'What it means is that the study done earlier by Dr Wakefield and published in 1998 is correct. That study didn’t draw any conclusions about specifically what it means to find measles virus in the gut, but the implication is it may be coming from the MMR vaccine. If that’s the case, and this live virus is residing in the gastrointestinal tract of some children, and then they have GI inflammation and other problems, it may be related to the MMR.'
The 1998 study by Dr Wakefield, then a reader in gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital in North London, and 12 other doctors claimed to have found a new bowel disease, autism enterocolitis.
At the time, Dr Wakefield said that although they had not proved a link between MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and autism, there was cause for concern and the Government should offer the option single vaccines - instead of only MMRs - until more research had been done.
The paper - and the confused interpretation of its findings - caused uproar and led to many parents withdrawing their co-operation for the triple jab. Ten of the paper's authors also signed retractions on the interpretation but stood by the science.
This is the second independent study to back up Dr Wakefield. In 2001 John O'Leary, Professor of Pathology at St James's Hospital and Trinity College, Dublin, replicated his findings.
Last night Dr Wakefield said: 'This new study confirms what we found in British children and again with Professor O'Leary. The only exposure these children have had to measles is through the MMR vaccine.
'They were developing normally until they regressed. They now suffer autism and bowel disease.
'The Department of Health and some of the media wanted to dismiss our research as insignificant. The excuse was that no one else had the same findings as us. What they didn't say is that no one else had looked.'
A spokesman for the Department of Health said they had not read the American report, but added: 'MMR remains the best form of protection against measles, mumps and rubella.'