Baylor assistant professor leads chelation research team

By Kate McGuire

Staff Writer

New research from Baylor’s Center for Autism finds chelation, a commonly-used therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders which is known to remove metals from the body is not as effective nor as reliable as was previously thought according to a Baylor professor.

Tonya N. Davis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Education Department and lead researcher for the review of the treatment of chelation in children with ASD found that chelation therapy may be reliable in adults who have been exposed to metals such as mercury or lead, but can, and has been fatal when administered to children with ASD.

Chelation is an agent that, when added to the body’s bloodstream, removes heavy metals, which decreases the amount of toxins in the body.

The goal of the study is “to serve as a base of information for people who might be considering chelation as a treatment,” Davis said.

The researchers began with the idea that because mercury poisoning may be a cause of ASD, and chelation could remove metals from the body, chelation may help the symptoms of ASD.

The team of ten researchers, three of whom are Baylor affiliated, evaluated the effects of chelation by comparing five different studies and published their findings in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“Chelation is a medical procedure that has been used outside the world of autism. It has very recently been applied to kids with autism,” Davis said.

Both Davis and Copeland found that chelation is used in adult patients who work in toxin-polluted environments and may help their symptoms but when administered to children, the results can be fatal.

“It tries to remove toxins from the body. Chelation works for adults who may work in factories where exposure to chemicals is possible, but doctors are using this treatment in children without the proper evidence,” said Daelynn Copeland, a researcher from the review who is working toward a doctorate in Educational Psychology.

The researchers findings were quite surprising, Copeland said.

According to the researchers’ findings, four out of five studies showed mixed results, whereas only one study reviewed proved chelation is a treatment with positive results for children with ASD.

Davis said she was surprised that so few studies had been published on the effects of chelation on ASD.

“I knew countless children who have used this, but we only found five studies. We had found some pretty significant results because there was a lot of risk with children,” Davis said.

A reason for the lack of studies may be that since chelation can have such harmful effects, many researchers don’t want to risk the possibility of bringing harm to their patients by using it, Copeland said.

The actual studies used in the review involved 82 children ranging in age from three to 14 years old that received chelation therapy.

Each study reviewed by the team had to pass a level of certainty, this means that if the evidence to support their claim did not match the actual results the studies were deemed insufficient.

The team did not have expectation coming into their study but were shocked by the fact that a commonly used treatment was not as effective as previously thought.

“I’m surprised at families who put their support in chelation therapy, regardless of the evidence that it does not work,” Copeland said.

This could be due to parents who want to try every option available.

These parents need to be looking at the right kinds of treatment and put their dollars towards that, Copeland said.

Davis said she would like those who are curious about such research or have questions to visit the Center for Autism Research, which located is in Baylor’s School of Education Learning Resource Center in Draper Hall.

The results of researcher’s review is published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, found online at