Proving Once Again That the MSM Can't Report Science
The article is about a Chinese neurosurgeon understatedly described as "controversial" who treats paralyzed patients in his clinic in Beijing. Apparently Dr Huang Hongyun has given new hope to patients suffering from catastrophic spinal cord injuries and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease). His therapy consists of injecting olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) obtained from aborted fetuses. His adherents, not to mention his public relations office, extol the virtues of his methods.
The article cites the response to such treatments in Leo Hallan, a 49-year-old man who suffered a massive cord injury 29 years prior in a tragic motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. After Hongyun's procedure, Hallan reports
Now before my readers wish to accuse me of being a Philistine and close-minded to new ideas, let clarify this issue: If someone can cure these terrible injuries by waving a magic wand over his patient, by muttering mystical incantations or by invoking the healing power of the Lord, I would be the first to embrace these "nontraditional" approaches. In fact, if Dr Hongyun speaks the truth, I know of many patients that I'd be sending on the next plane to the orient.
"He started perspiring below his chest and could feel the chill of the wind for the first time when he went outdoors in his wheelchair.
"When I was outside, I felt cold in my arm, the hair of my arm was moving, I had to look down to believe it," said a cheerful-looking Hallan. "Words cannot express my emotions.
"It was total amazement, just unbelievable," he said. "Twenty-nine years ago ... many doctors said I'd never walk again. At least now I can say there is quite a bit of hope."
My job is reasonably secure. I haven't been "bought" by the government-big pharma elite. I don't have an empire destined to collapse in the wake of such momentous scientific developments. In fact, I'd go so far as to assert that only the most parochial, most selfish, most avaricious of humankind could hope that such claims will evaporate into evanescent nothingness leaving the hopeful stranded yet again in their beds, their wheelchairs and in their damaged bodies.
However, I'm convinced that Dr. Hongyun has achieved nothing. Why? Because he refuses to subject his findings to the impersonal meat grinder we in medicine call the scientific method. He refuses to perform randomized clinical trials, the gold standard for establishing clinical benefit. He disingenuously invokes some no doubt nonexistent Chinese law that makes such studies illegal:
it would mean effectively deceiving patients into believing they had been treated when they hadn't.Fancy footwork, the last refuge of the scoundrel.
"For someone like Mr Hallan who had been ill for 29 years, it would be cruelty to let him have that done to him..."
The fact of the matter is, clinical benefit of any medical treatment is based on well...clinical benefit. The treatment itself is irrelevant. If it's effective, its benefit by definition has to be measurable. And the most effective instrument of measuring and quantifying benefit is the randomized clinical trial.
Basing an assessment of benefit on the unquantified speculations of desperate patients hungry for the slightest whiff of hope is fraught with countless, well-established, well-characterized biases documented in all their gory details in the various articles, books, monographs, etc. that deal with such methodological issues. Read my own small contribution to this end here and my discussion of the consequences of not performing trials in a methodologically sound manner here.
So why my initial assertion that this entire story isn't news? Because to publish such a story is to publish the scientific version of rumor and innuendo. The story is completely unsubstantiated and putting it in print gives it weight and a veneer of veracity that is unwarranted. Let the National Enquirer (or my favorite tabloid, the Weekly World News) waste their ink on this nonstory.
And just as soon as Dr. Hongyon validates the benefits of his miracle treatment...I'll beg, borrow or steal to get my patients to him. Until that time, I'm going to have to waste my time explaining to hopeful patients that, despite reading about his work on Yahoo, at least right now it's without a scientific basis.