Image courtesy of Bernard Rimland

"Birches" by Mark Rimland, an autistic artist.
At least 15 clinical trials have begun or soon will be under way to help answer a question that has tantalized parents across the country in recent months: Can autism be effectively treated with secretin? The hormone, produced by the small intestine to incite secretion of pancreatic juice as a digestive aid, leaped to public attention in October of last year, when physicians began prescribing it off-label to treat autism. Thousands have now received secretin, many of whom are getting repeated doses, although it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only to diagnose pancreatic dysfunction.

"There's the possibility of a real public health crisis," warns Marie Bristol-Power, health scientist administrator in the mental retardation and development disabilities branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md. "I spoke...

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