The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘treatment’

Fight Against Cancer Quack Burzynski Goes to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2014

Last year I blogged about how this blog has joined a coalition of skeptical blogs titled the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).

The impetus for this is a particularly loathsome man – Stanislaw Burzynski – who is a quack that promises to cure people of their cancer, despite the fact that decades of research show that his claimed cancer cures don’t work.  Unfortunately, Burzynski has been able to skirt common decency, good medical science, and the FDA regulators and continue to practice his quackery, resulting in an unfortunate number of people going to him in the hopes that he can cure them.  A good rundown of Burzynski’s history of fraud can be found by listening to this recent podcast of Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the SPCP has decided to take down Burzynski due to the particularly flagrant manner in which he practices his dangerous pseudoscience; it will also serve as a message to all other medical quacks and charlatans to be on notice because we in the skeptical community are watching.

Burzynski SI Title

Well, now things are going to the next level – straight to Congress.  Burzynski has been able to get away with so much for so long because he has political allies in high places, so we’ve decided to fight fire with fire.  My skeptical colleagues at the SPCP have put together a petition asking Congress to step in and force the FDA to do its job and properly investigate, regulate, and (hopefully) put out of business Burzynski and his quack clinic.

Please consider signing and passing along this petition; the text of the petition follows – click here to sign:

Protect Desperate Patients from the Houston Cancer Quack

Petition by Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients

We are writing to request your urgent attention to a matter that involves the exploitation of cancer patients, their families, and their communities.

For nearly 40 years, Houston cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski has been treating cancer patients with an unproven chemotherapy he calls “antineoplastons.” Following an agreement in the 1990s with the FDA, he has recently only been able to administer the drug under the auspices of clinical trials. For this questionable treatment, he charges patients exorbitant fees (often hundreds of thousands of dollars) to participate in a trial, and he claims to cure the most difficult, almost uniformly fatal pediatric brain cancers. His claims are not supported by science and evidence; despite opening more than 60 trials in the last 15 years, he has not published the results of a single completed clinical trial.

On Friday, November 15, 2013, many concerning issues about Dr. Burzynski were detailed in a front-page exposé in USA Today, including his past use of antineoplastons as an AIDS and Parkinson’s treatment. Sickeningly, critics of the Clinic have found a pattern going back 20 years of patients publicly celebrating unambiguous signs of disease progression as signs that antineoplastons were working.

The FDA recently released site inspection notes about Stanislaw Burzynski’s clinic. Their findings were horrific:

– Burzynski “failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care.”
— “Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses“
— Burzysnki allowed overdoses continue: “Overdose incidents have been reported to you [....] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.”
— All baseline tumor measurements were destroyed: “Your [...] tumor measurements initially recorded on worksheets at baseline and on-study treatment [...] studies for all study subjects were destroyed and are not available for FDA inspectional review.” Without any measurement there is no way to determine any actual efficacy of the treatment, making Burzynski’s claims unsupported and unpublishable.
— Burzynski’s reported success rates are inflated: He “failed to comply with protocol requirements related to the primary outcome, therapeutic response [...] for 67% of study subjects reviewed during the inspection.” Nonetheless, these inaccurate outcomes are used to convince dying patients antineoplastons can save them.

Other issues cited by the FDA included:

– Paying patients who failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the study were admitted to Burynski’s trials;
— Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols, and many exhibiting toxic effects were not removed from treatment;
— Adverse events were not reported in a timely fashion (in one case 7 years);
— The FDA received two different versions of a pediatric patient’s records during an inspection, especially significant because the child apparently died of a known side effect of antineoplastons.

Shockingly, these observations were made after a decade of abysmal site reviews by the FDA. Currently, Burzynski’s trials are subject to a partial clinical hold, which means Burzynski is still treating patients already on his protocol.

We are asking that you:

– Encourage the FDA to dissolve the Burzynski Research Institute’s clearly deficient Institutional Review [ethical oversight] Board and toplace a permanent hold on any more cancer patients receiving antineoplastons;
— Investigate how Burzynski has been allowed to conduct experiments on pediatric cancer patients while repeatedly cited for violating rules designed to prevent uncontrolled human experimentation.
— Investigate why the FDA allowed this abysmal researcher to advance to phase 3 clinical trials without publishing a single phase 2 trial;
— Protect cancer patients from abuse through legislation and FDA oversight reform.

Please help end a medical ethics scandal that involves eight times as many patients as the Tuskegee Experiment. I look forward to your response on this important matter.

Click here to Sign the Petition!

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients: Battling Burzynski’s Dangerous BS

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2013

Sometimes pseudoscience is stupid, sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it hurts our educational institutions… and sometimes it is outright frakking deadly.  Case in point, medical frauds who perpetuate nonsense to vulnerable, desperate people; such as when quacks push supposed “cures for cancer” which are anything but or have yet to be proven, such as in the case of Stanislaw Burzynski and his “cancer clinic”.  In such situations, it is literally a matter of life and death because when cancer patients delay reliable medical treatments in favor of pseudoscientific B.S. the delay can cost them their lives.  Skeptic James Randi helps to break it down in more detail here:

The Randi Show – The Burzynski Clinic and Cancer Quacks

But rather than curse the darkness, let us instead light a candle… :)

I am happy to announce that the Skeptical Teacher will be joining a coalition of skeptical activists called the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).  The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients is a grassroots group devoted to the promotion of promising, ethical, and transparent cancer research. For more about this project and the group sponsoring it, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com or visit their Facebook page.  Also, please consider donating either some of your time  by promoting the cause (if you have a blog or media contacts) and/or your money to the legitimate scientific research of cancer.

Some more background and info on Burzynski:

*Dr. David Gorski has a new Science-Based Medicine post out as of this past Monday on Burzynski’s antineoplastons treatment. Science-Based Medicine » Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s antineoplastons versus patients.

*Burzynski gets warning from FDA: Stop promoting your treatment as “safe” and “effective”

The U.S. FDA has sent a letter to the Burzynski Research Institute to cease claiming that their brain tumor treatment, antineoplastons, are safe and/or effective for the purposed for which they are being investigated. In other words, Burzynski’s claims on websites and promotional materials that this treatment WORKS is a violation because supposed to be testing that!

* Supporters often use patient anecdotes to sell his unproven treatments at the Burzynski Patient Group. We have started curating a collection of patient stories at The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group, the ones Burzynski would rather you not hear. Also, these stories can be exported to your own website IN THEIR ENTIRETY via the storify site they were created on. Free content, people. Just sayin’.

*Orac, an oncologist, cancer researcher, and patient advocate, has written extensively about Burzynski at Respectful Insolence.

*Learn the whole story at Josephine Jones’s Blog. She has kept a comprehensive list of content about Burzynski, his clinic, and his chemotherapy on the web. An invaluable resource!

*You might be interested that the EMPLOYER of one of our members (of SPCP) was recently contacted by one of Burzynski’s misguided supporters.

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

JREF Takes Political Action Against Homeopathic Quackery

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 8, 2011

I found out the James Randi Educational Foundation has started a campaign to get people to put political pressure on the United States Congress in an attempt to get them to reign in medical loopholes pertaining to homeopathy.  If you care at all about science-based medicine, then I encourage you to get involved in this campaign…

Close The Quack Medicine Loophole For Homeopathic Remedies

OVERVIEW

So-called homeopathic remedies may be the only products given a free pass to say they’re intended to treat disease, without any proof at all that they work. In fact, most homeopathic products are nothing but plain sugar pills with no active ingredients. Manufacturers take millions of dollars a year from unsuspecting customers who often think they’re buying real medicine.

Drugs have to be tested for safety before they can be sold. Nutritional supplements have to carry disclaimers, telling consumers that their claims have not been evaluated by the FDA. Homeopathy is exempt from these requirements because of a law passed more than 70 years ago. It’s time to close this loophole and make manufactures of these quack medications play by the same rules as everyone else.

The facts about homeopathic remedies:

  • No Ingredients: Homeopathic remedies are so extremely dilute that most do not contain a single atom of their claimed active ingredient. The most popular homeopathic remedy, oscillococcinum, is based on a dilution of one part duck liver to 10^400 parts of water. 10^400 is the number 1 with 400 zeroes after it. To make such a dilution, you’d have to mix a single molecule of duck liver with more matter than exists in the entire known universe.
  • No Testing: Homeopathic remedies are exempted from regulations requiring drugs to prove they’re effective and accurately labeled with respect to dosage and potency. What’s more, homeopathic remedies were never even tested by their inventors to make sure they work. Homeopathic remedies are invented by a process homeopaths call “proving”: they give a substance to a healthy person, observe the symptoms it causes, and then take it on faith that homeopathic doses of the same substance will cure those symptoms. For example, coffee causes sleeplessness—that’s all homeopaths need to know in order to prescribe homeopathically-diluted coffee as sleeping pills, called “coffea cruda.” According to homeopathic principles, there’s no need to test whether it actually helps anyone sleep.
  • No Facts: Major pharmacy chains like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid sell useless homeopathic products right alongside real medicine, with no warning to consumers. Manufacturers and retailers profit by denying customers the facts they need to make up their minds. U.S. law exempts homeopathy from certain rules that govern drugs and nutritional supplements, so manufacturers can market homeopathic remedies for the treatment of illnesses despite the fact that reputable studies show homeopathy to work no better than dummy pills made of plain sugar.
Click here to sign the letter and send a message to the U.S. Congress on this issue.  Please act now and take some time to pass this along to your friends & family.

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Randi’s Challenge to Homeopathy Manufacturers and Retail Pharmacies

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 26, 2011

As a follow-up to the successful 10:23 Campaign: “Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It!”, I wanted to share with you all an excellent video challenge from skeptic James Randi, who is laying down the gauntlet to homeopathy manufacturers and pharmacies that sell this scam “medicine”…

 

In addition, please consider taking a few minutes to go over to Change.org and sign the petition which encourages these manufacturers & pharmacies to come clean to the public about these bogus products…

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The 10:23 Challenge 2011: Homeopathy, There’s Nothing In It

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 3, 2011

You may recall that about one year ago there was a very widespread and public examination of the pseudoscience of homeopathy in what was billed as the 10:23 Challenge – read more about how homeopathy failed to kill anyone via “suicidal overdose” at that event. In keeping with the spirit of grassroots skeptical activism, the 10:23 Challenge is back for 2011, and it’s taking place this Saturday, Feb. 5th.  Check out the 10:23 website for more information…

The 10:23 Challenge is a follow-up to the ‘overdose’ protest staged by the 10:23 Campaign in 2010. International protesters from more than 10 countries, and more than 23 cities will gather for over the weekend of February 5-6 2011, to make the simple statement: Homeopathy – There’s Nothing In It.

The challenge will culminate on February 6th at the QED conference in Manchester, where 300 protesters will participate the largest ever single demonstration against homeopathy.

**Update: As a follow up message, I’d like to share with you a Youtube video by my skeptical colleague from Down Under, Kylie Sturgess…

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

10:23 “Overdose by Homeopathy” Event a Miserable Failure

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 1, 2010

This is a follow up to my recent “Suicide by Homeopathy?” post – and by calling the event a “miserable failure” I mean that it was the homeopathy that was an epic fail.  Hundreds and hundreds of skeptics attempted to overdose on a variety of homeopathic remedies, and not one person was adversely affected. Which begs a question: why do homeopaths bother mentioning anything at all about dosage on their remedies when it is apparent that dosage doesn’t matter?

Apparently, the press caught wind of this public experiment and thought it was interesting – check out the BBC article on it. In addition, here’s an update on the event from the 10:23 Campaign, along with some neat footage as well…

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Suicide by Homeopathy?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2010

If you’ve been running around in skeptical circles for any amount of time, then you’ve no doubt heard of the quackery called homeopathy. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on homeopathy…

Classical homeopathy originated in the 19th century with Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843) as an alternative to the standard medical practices of the day, such as phlebotomy or bloodletting. Opening veins to bleed patients, force disease out of the body, and restore the humors to a proper balance was a popular medical practice until the late19th century (Williams 2000: 265). Hahnemann rejected the notion that disease should be treated by letting out the offensive matter causing the illness. In this, he was right. On the other hand, he argued that disease should be treated by helping the vital force restore the body to harmony and balance. In this, he was wrong. He rejected other common medical practices of his day such as purgatives and emetics “with opium and mercury-based calomel” (ibid.: 145). He was right to do so. Hahnemann’s alternative medicine was more humane and less likely to cause harm than many of the conventional practices of his day. …

Homeopaths refer to “the Law of Infinitesimals” and the “Law of Similars” as grounds for using minute substances and for believing that like heals like, but these are not natural laws of science. If they are laws at all, they are metaphysical laws, i.e., beliefs about the nature of reality that would be impossible to test by empirical means. Hahnemann’s ideas did originate in experience. That he drew metaphysical conclusions from empirical events does not, however, make his ideas empirically testable. The law of infinitesimals seems to have been partly derived from his notion that any remedy would cause the patient to get worse before getting better and that one could minimize this negative effect by significantly reducing the size of the dose. Most critics of homeopathy balk at this “law” because it leads to remedies that have been so diluted as to have nary a single molecule of the substance one starts with.

And this is the real rub with a notion as loony as homeopathy.  We already know from modern science-based medicine that, in the case of drugs, there must be a certain amount of active ingredient in the drug in order for it to have the desired effect.  Of course, there are dangers from using medical drugs: one of the most common is that of over-dosing.  If someone takes too much of a certain active ingredient, it can be harmful or – in the worst case – fatal.  For example, we all know about stories of people committing suicide by over-dosing on sleeping pills.

However, with homeopathy, this is all turned completely on its head.  Homeopaths, invoking their magical “law of infinitesimals”, insist that by diluting the active ingredient to the most ludicrous extreme (i.e., imagine diluting a solution so much that only one molecule of active ingredient remains in it) this will somehow transfer the healing power of the ingredient to the patient and actually make the solution more potent.

A classic example of debunking this particular woo-woo claim has been performed numerous times by James Randi as he lectures on the topic of homeopathy & other quackery.  As he lectures, usually for roughly an hour, Randi will consume an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills that he’d purchased earlier from a nearby pharmacy.  Needless to say, despite performing this feat numerous times, James Randi has yet to die from such an “over-dose”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Good News – Alt-Med Gets Whacked in 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2010

It looks like, upon looking back at the year 2009, that in many ways it was a good one for science & skepticism – at least, it was good for medical science.  That’s because, according to a breakdown by LiveScience.com, various forms of alt-med woo woo got a well-deserved smackdown.  That’s because a number of popular alt-med ideas were – gasp!actually tested out under controlled conditions to see if they actually do what their practitioners claim.  Let’s look at the results…

Reiki

Reiki is a spiritual practice developed in Japan in the early 20th century that, in the hands of Westerners, has evolved into a new-age healing practice. Popular in Hawaii and California by the 1970s, reiki has since become a staple at health spas and in granola-loving cities across the United States.

Reiki involves a practitioner (that is, someone who has taken a couple days of training) who places her hands on or just above a patient’s body to transmit healing energy — the “ki” or reiki, better known as qi in Chinese traditional medicine. Reiki has all the trappings of new-age healing: restoring balance and instilling life energy through mysticism and/or vibrational energy. Akin to a hands-off massage, reiki is said to relieve stress, fatigue and depression and promote self-healing for just about any disease, including cancer.

The two largest scientific reviews of reiki, published last year in International Journal of Clinical PracticeJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveal that reiki is not an effective treatment for any condition. and in November 2009 in the Also in 2009, the U.S. Catholic Church weighed in, stating at a March meeting of bishops that, “since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for… Catholic health care facilities… to provide support for Reiki therapy.”

Reiki is not an outright scam; the practitioners seem to believe in what they are doing. In the end the soft music and whispery speech of the practitioners during the reiki sessions merely helps one relax.

Well, regardless of the Catholic Church’s theological opinion on reiki, one thing is clear: the science shows that, despite the fervent belief held by its practitioners, reiki doesn’t work. I can wave my hands in the air just as well as a “qualified” reiki practitioner and achieve exactly the same results… nothing at all. What’s next?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

 
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