Sometimes Francis Collins does something right »« There’s a fine line between being a Time Lord and being senile

Charles Teo has a lucrative racket

Teo is an Australian surgeon who has a brilliant scheme for anyone with a bit of surgical skill and a complete lack of conscience. He performs surgery on inoperable brain tumors in kids dying of cancer, and then ships them off to the Burzynski clinic in Texas to get injected with urine and die.

You’ve got to admit, marshaling the resources of a hospital, opening up a child’s skull, and diddling about with a knife inside without killing them is an amazing feat of impressive showmanship, sure to make devastated parents think something is being done worth $20-60,000 — even if there is no evidence at all that poking a glioblastoma with a pointy object offers any therapeutic benefit at all. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Teo is actually a very skilled surgeon. The problem is that brain surgery is not a panacea, and sometimes it is a totally inappropriate approach to deal with some cancers.

That he then sends his dying kids off to bankrupt their parents in a futile gesture at the Burzynski clinic suggests that this is a guy who knows how to crack skulls but actually knows nothing at all about cancer.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. says

    You nail the problem with Teo’s approach : Cutting out some parts of an invasive brain tumour may for a short period relieve the tumour load, symptoms, or pressure on the brain, but the mortality, i.e. the ultimate outcome, is essentially not altered significantly at all. Those patients die, just as they would have with conventional treatment. The difference is that with conventional treatment, the family does not end up bancrupt.

  2. cry4turtles says

    I’m wondering (just wondering) were these kids sent home by conventional docs who have run out of options? The vernacular is, “He/she was sent home to die”. If so, then I certainly can’t fault the parents. If Doctor Teo is trying to save lives with unconventional methods, I may be able to respect him if this is done in a research format, but then the subjects are paid and there’s only salary for the doc. Hummm…

  3. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    cry4turtles ,
    I don’t think anyone is blaming the parents. They are desperate to help their children and here they have a medical authority offering treatment. This “doctor” should lose his licence.

  4. says

    This “doctor” should lose his licence.

    The barbaric part of me would argue for Mr. Teo to get the same “treatment” he’s been perpetrating on others, or perhaps a pair o’ hand-amputations. Couple that with demolishing (with fire) the Burzynski “clinic.”

    The more “civilized” part says, yes, no more medical license (forever) and 5 years in prison for every child killed. Also, demolishing (with bulldozers) the Burzynski “clinic.”

  5. DLC says

    Burzynski is bad enough on his own, without a surgeon offering him more victims. Does this Teo even understand that the Burzynski treatment is a bunch of bollocks? Would he even care if someone showed him what say, Orac had to say on the matter ?
    said plastic box with lights in it has written 3-4 pieces on Dr B. and his horror show. Because I’m lazy, I just saved the Search link for it. here you go. Burzynski site:http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/

  6. Amphiox says

    The article says “inoperable” glioblastomas. So I’m pretty sure most of these are children who already have had surgery (because surgical resection* actually does offer a significant survival benefit, when done in addition to radiation and chemotherapy, compared to radiation and chemotherapy alone) radiation and chemotherapy, and have recurrent or non-responsive tumors, which also are in a location that cannot be safely operated on with traditional microsurgical techniques.

    Teo is using a wholly unproven “minimally invasive” technique that basically amounts to sucking out some of the tumor through a tube, and leaving the rest behind (and how the hell is he getting hemostasis here?).

    *To get the benefit one needs a close to gross total resection, ie >98% of the tumor mass has to be removable. Just taking out, say, 50% of the tumor is more or less no different from taking out nothing, except in situations where the raised intracranial pressure from the tumor is causing an immediate threat to life, in which case a decompression surgery could prevent the patient from dying right then and there, as opposed to several weeks or months later.

  7. crissakentavr says

    Still, a minimally invasive surgery could reduce the pain and disability associated with the tumor even if it can’t cure the patient.

    This is like the argument ‘higher speed on the road increases fatalities’ – it does, but it doesn’t, to a point, increase accidents. There are other things to measure other than mortality.

    But if he’s associated with Burzynski, that’s disgusting. This is why medicine should never be for-profit.

  8. Irene Delse says

    “[Charles Teo] performs surgery on inoperable brain tumors in kids dying of cancer, and then ships them off to the Burzynski clinic in Texas to get injected with urine and die.”>

    Actually, Burzynski’s so-called “antineoplastons” are not extracted from urine anymore but synthetised in the lab. Also, according to Orac, what Burzynski gives to patients is not exactly an untested drug, but sounds more like a sort of badly thought-out mixture of several known chemotherapy drugs, sold at a huge markup through his own clinic. It’s still several kind of unethical: making patients pay tens and thousands of dollars even though it’s a clinical test; using a regimen of drugs that still have no proven efficacy even though he’s been conducting “tests” on them for more than 30 years; promoting his “miracle cure” to desperate patients and their families without disclosing the failures, etc.

    For more on the matter of Burzynski and Charles Teo, see Orac’s new post, which includes links to his previous posts on the subject of “antineoplastons”, it’s illuminating:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/12/on_leaping_to_conclusions.php

  9. gragra says

    Sheesh, so much for critical thinking. Teo sounds like a grandiose jerk and Burzynski is a piece of shit…. but from reading that blog entry the connection between the two is at best tenuous. We have the word of the mother of one patient: “they had discussed taking Braydon to Texas with Dr Teo, who said he felt it would be a good option for the four-year-old,” according to the Courier Mail, a rag if ever there was one. Then there is the blog of the other guy, now sadly dead, whose family said they took him the see Burzynski, but from what I have read, there was no indication that Teo approved of the “treatment” in this case.

    This sounds like a beat up job to me.

  10. amuuse says

    PZ, you are so very wrong re Dr Charlie Teo.

    To quote the ABC ‘Australia Story’ intro
    “Sydney neurosurgeon Charlie Teo…is an enigma in his own profession, loved by patients but unpopular with some in the medical establishment.
    He is credited with prolonging the lives of many people with tumours that were considered inoperable.
    Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh says Charlie Teo saved his wife’s life…”

    He is enormously respected in Australia by anyone he has had contact with (apart from some Neurosurgeons who perhaps are less able).

    I know little of Dr Burzinski but the connection between the two is shakey at best.

  11. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    To quote the ABC ‘Australia Story’ intro
    “Sydney neurosurgeon Charlie Teo…is an enigma in his own profession, loved by patients but unpopular with some in the medical establishment.
    He is credited with prolonging the lives of many people with tumours that were considered inoperable.
    Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh says Charlie Teo saved his wife’s life…”

    Well that settles it. Such strong evidence.

    He is enormously respected in Australia by anyone he has had contact with (apart from some Neurosurgeons who perhaps are less able).

    hilarious

  12. amuuse says

    Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Well that settles it. Such strong evidence.

    Maybe your comment is more pertinent to the above article rather than my comment.

  13. AmandaS says

    Wow, vile slander of a surgeon based on a quote provided in a single newspaper article describing what a patient’s mother said that surgeon said (during some undoubtedly extremely long and complex discussions about the child’s chances and what the surgery entailed, which would aid her perfect recollection).

    That patient’s mother saying “he (Teo) said it would be a good option” leads to an accusation of deliberately and maliciously ineffectively operating on children and farming them onwards so everyone can make money out of their poor deluded parents before the child dies.

    So, Charlie Teo’s surgical success rate would be? His long-term survival rates from surgery would be (I would add that he says they’re low because he’s generally operating on people with a very poor prognosis and his surgery is intended often only to provide some time and some quality of life where he thinks that his surgery can provide that)? So, his results in terms of patient life-span/quality of life are? His records of scientific papers on his techniques would be? His citation rate would be? His proven link to the Burzynski clinic is shown where? His wholesale “shipping” of these children to the Burzynski clinic is shown how? The fact that two people, desperate not to die/have their children die, might research people with both good track records (Teo) and not-good track records (Burzynski) and mention them both as options in a blog post and a newspaper article respectively in the last ten years doesn’t introduce some doubt about vile baby-stabbing parent-bankrupting, hospital-abusing evil neurosurgeon, Teo? (And yes, I Googled and the only links shown between the names of Teo and Burzynski are in the blog-post from 2002, the Ballarat Courier article and the sudden bloom of outrage in this corner of the web.)

    Scepticism and an inquiring mind seems not to have had any part in this post. Thank goodness for Orac.

  14. captainchaos says

    PZ was clearly wrong to draw such strong conclusions from such slight evidence. It’s not worthy of him. Pity that he won’t respond or update his post.

  15. Irene Delse says

    One important thing to note: Orac’s blog post is more nuanced on the issue of Charles Teo, but even him has reservations. For instance, Teo seems to have some kooky ideas on issues like the immune system or the causes of cancer: he claims that mobile phones can cause brain cancer, despite the very high implausibility of this hypothesis, in addition to the fact that several large epidemiological studies have failed to find a link.

    And then there’s the fact that his website says things like this:

    “Dr Teo is a strong believer in the importance of keeping the immune system primed. This can be done with exercise, a diet rich in anti-oxidants, positive thought, reduced stress and laughter.”

    Boosting the immune system? Check. Anti-oxydants? Check. Blaming the cancer patients for lack of “positive thought”? Check. The whole thing reads like a sales pitch for some alt-med woo. Charles Teo may well be a wonderfully skilled surgeon, but a terrible source for good advice on cancer, all in all.

    Also, don’t miss the comments for a more detailed discussion of Teo’s practice and ethics. Here is a surgeon who not only sounds his own trumpet (which is understandable when you are successful) but basically insults his colleagues on a routine basis because he thinks they are not as good as him. And then, there’s the fact that, at least one time, he sold the right to see him operate to a rich bidder:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/12/on_leaping_to_conclusions.php#comment-6201855

  16. Ariaflame says

    @captainchaos You, like myself, might be somewhere where it’s a sane hour. I make it early morning in the East coast of the USA. Earlier further to the West. Where PZ lives is it is barely 7:41am as I type this. I don’t know much about Teo myself, but some of his ideas, well, you can be a good surgeon while still being woefully ignorant in other areas of science. I suggest that you give PZ a chance to you know, wake up. Get coffee, breakfast, and he might get to this thread eventually.

  17. captainchaos says

    @Ariaflame: sure, but he posted this 24 hours ago, and posted many articles since, the last one eight hours ago. It doesn’t seem likely that lack of time is the reason for the lack of follow up. But who knows, I may be wrong, and if so I apologise.

  18. progjohn says

    I enjoy reading PZ’s usually excellent posts, but am concerned he has hit the wrong target this time. The evidence that Teo sends patients to Burzynski is as flimsy as that for new-earth creationism, the worst you can say is that he may perform ineffective surgery on terminally ill patients.
    I suspect PZ will lose interest in this subject now, rather than do the honest thing and admit his error, as I have noticed this behaviour from him on occasion.
    So come on PZ, prove me wrong and correct yourself rather than leave in place a decidedly unpleasant libel of a quite possibly innocent man.

  19. kami says

    This post is so pathetic. Talk about jumping to conclusions, and you blast the people that you say lack “reason”? Laughable. The decent thing to do would be to either provide stronger (or any?) evidence for your accusation, or update this post admitting you drew a hasty conclusion.

    Even more amusing are the loyal contributors in the comments who so dogmatically accepted every word (comments 3 and 5 win this award for stupidity).

    @21 (Irene Delse) – while I still think it was unethical for Dr. Teo to auction tickets to watch him operate, the comment you linked to doesn’t really give context to the “rich guy” buying access.

    “In October Dr Teo offered a day spent in his company, including the possibility of watching his intricate excision of brain tumours, as a prize in a charity auction held at the Concord Function Centre to raise funds for childhood cancer research. It fetched about $1500.”

    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/knives-out-over-sale-of-ringside-surgery-seats-20110127-1a6xa.html#ixzz1htbdZ3Aj

    I happen to agree with Professor Chapman but feel that the linked comment can be assessed more accurately with the whole context known, as well as the fact that the money was not filling Dr. Teo’s own coffers.

    But I agree, Orac takes the sensible approach by actually considering the issue and does call out some of Teo’s ideas which aren’t evidence-based. Kudos to him. And kudos to PZ for smearing the name of a brilliant surgeon who dedicates his life to brain tumour research and education.