The Lancet medical journal retracted a 1998 study that linked a routine childhood vaccine to autism and bowel disease after a U.K. investigation found flaws in the research.

The U.K. General Medical Council, which licenses doctors, concluded in a report last week that three researchers led by Andrew Wakefield at the Royal Free Hospital in London carried out invasive, unnecessary tests, failed to act in the best interest of the children, and misused public funds. It also said Wakefield didn't disclose a conflict of interest as he was involved in legal claims against the vaccine makers.

"It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation," the editors of the Lancet wrote in a statement today.

Immunization rates plunged in the U.K. to less than 80 percent by 2003, as parents concerned about the possible health risks refused the vaccine, according to the Health Protection Agency. Ten of the 12 authors, in a 2004 article in the Lancet, backed away from the suggestion that autism and bowel disease were linked to the vaccine. A panel of U.S. government advisers found the same year that childhood vaccinations probably don't raise the risk of autism.

The original study, involving 11 boys and one girl aged 10 and under, found bowel disease and developmental disorders in the previously normal children. The parents reported symptoms in eight of the children after they were vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella.

'Outrageous'

"It was outrageous," Jeffrey Boscamp, a pediatrician at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said by email. "Most of the authors asked for their names to be removed from the study. It's unfortunate that it undermined confidence in vaccines when in fact it wasn't true at all."

With today's action by the Lancet, the paper was retracted from the published record, stripping it of its scientific claims.

Wakefield oversees the research program at Thoughtful House, a treatment center for children with developmental disorders, in Austin, Texas.

"The allegations against me and against my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust, and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion," Wakefield said in a statement provided by Thoughtful House today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in London at [email protected]