A $200 million gift promotes alternative therapies at a California medical school — and critics recoil

By Usha Lee McFarling

LOS ANGELES — When billionaires Susan and Henry Samueli this week announced a $200 million donation to the University of California, Irvine to launch a new health program dedicated to integrative medicine, they drew a standing ovation and glowing coverage.

But for those who have been watching the steady creep of unproven therapies into mainstream medicine, the announcement didn’t go over quite as well.

“This is ultimately a very bad thing,” said Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University and longtime critic of alternative therapies.  “It’s putting emphasis and the imprimatur of a university on things that have been discarded as medical fraud for 50 years.”

University of Alberta health law professor Tim Caulfield, who has made his name debunking celebrity health fads, has raised red flags about the adoption of alternative therapies — from “energy healing” to homeopathic bee venom to intravenous mineral infusions — at top medical centers including Duke, Johns Hopkins, and UC San Francisco. The new school at UC Irvine “is more of the same, and I find it very frustrating,” he said. “I worry this legitimizes practices that aren’t valid.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. @OP – “This is ultimately a very bad thing,” said Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University and longtime critic of alternative therapies. “It’s putting emphasis and the imprimatur of a university on things that have been discarded as medical fraud for 50 years.”

    So what is needed, is to use this money for reputable research by honest staff and students, to repeat the debunking of the quackery in greater detail, and then publish the results in reputable journals – and from there, pass it on into educational material widely to the public warning them against dysfunctional treatments, scams and quackery!

    There is of course no problem with genuine “integrative medicine”, which brings specialisms together to give a comprehensive over-view without gaps in services – BUT with an absence of charlatan pseudo-services from the mix!

  2. Meanwhile, some purveyors of quackery are being held to account in Australia!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-41423491

    Belle Gibson falsely claimed alternative therapies helped her beat cancer after conventional medicine failed

    An Australian wellness blogger who falsely claimed to have cancer has been fined A$410,000 (£240,000, $322,000) for misleading her readers.

    Belle Gibson, 25, gained fame in Australia after she claimed to have beaten brain cancer using natural remedies and nutrition.

    She launched a successful app and cookbook, but later admitted the diagnosis was made up.

    Ms Gibson was found guilty of five breaches of consumer law in March.

    A judge at the time said Ms Gibson may have “genuinely” believed what she was saying, and might have suffered from “delusions” about her health.

    She did not attend the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne on Thursday to hear the penalty handed down.

    Ms Gibson built a social media empire off claims she had cured her cancer with Ayurvedic medicine, oxygen therapy and a gluten and refined sugar-free diet.

    “Her ‘pitch’ overwhelmingly used groups likely to evoke sympathy because of their vulnerabilities – young girls, asylum seekers, sick children,” Justice Debbie Mortimer said in March.

    Ms Gibson’s app and cookbook, both called The Whole Pantry, made A$420,000, and she had promised to deliver a share of the profits to several charities.

    But the money allegedly never reached the charities and cracks began to appear in Ms Gibson’s story, leading her to admit her claims were untrue.

  3. @OP – A $200 million gift promotes alternative therapies at a California medical school — and critics recoil

    This is of course merely a symptom of a society, which puts unregulated, unearned, and undeserved, wealth and power, in the hands of the ignorant and stupid!

    . . . . currently a major feature of the inmates of the White House and the offices of various state governors!

  4. Meanwhile – back in the world of real scientific medical research to reduce blindness:-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-41685982

    Artificial corneas have been grown using a new method described as “revolutionary”.

    Scientists at Newcastle University have developed a process they say makes them fit better and offer better vision.

    Lead researcher and Professor of Tissue Engineering Che Connon said this had “never been seen before”.

    Cells grown on a curved rather than flat surface were “crawling over the dome in a lattice-like structure, similar to a pie crust”, he said.

    The cells produced “large amounts” of aligned collagen in the same way it is found in a human eye, Prof Connon said.

    “There were no easy ways to recreate it in a dish – until now,” he added.

    The corneas, which are stronger and more transparent than previous artificial versions, take three months to produce.

    The “breakthrough” could solve the shortage of donated human corneas in the UK, Europe and the USA, the university said.

    The increase in laser eye surgery, which makes corneas unusable for transplant, has reduced the supply, it added.

    The new technique also provides an alternative to plastic corneas, which the body can reject.

    It could “revolutionise how artificial tissues are traditionally grown in laboratories around the world”, the university said.

    The research, published in the journal Advanced Biosystems, was conducted with scientists from the University of California.

    “We think our team will be able to test these in humans within two years.”

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