In a few weeks, we’ll be having a discussion of the ethics of cancer research: what is a reasonable intervention in the case of a patient who has no hope of survival? And look at the interesting case that just appeared on my radar: two cancer surgeons who treated brain tumors by deliberately infecting them with bacteria.
Two UC Davis neurosurgeons who intentionally infected three brain-cancer patients with bowel bacteria have resigned their posts after the university found they had "deliberately circumvented" internal policies, "defied directives" from top leaders and sidestepped federal regulations, according to newly released university documents.
Dr. J. Paul Muizelaar, 66, the former head of the neurosurgery department, and his colleague, Dr. Rudolph J. Schrot, violated the university’s faculty code of conduct with their experimental work, one internal investigation concluded.
All three patients consented to the procedures in 2010 and 2011. Two of the patients died within weeks of their surgeries, while the other survived more than a year after being infected.
The premise behind their experimental procedure is probiotics, which immediately throws a warning on the play: there’s a lot of abuse of the concept out there.
Muizelaar and Schrot called their novel approach “probiotic intracranial therapy,” or the introduction of live bowel bacteria, Enterobacter aerogenes, directly into their patients’ brains or bone flaps. The doctors theorized that an infection might stimulate the patients’ immune systems and prolong their lives.
But there are some serious problems here. They didn’t have institutional review and approval of their procedure! That’s not a warning flag, it immediately calls the entire research into question and brings the ethics of the doctors under the microscope. You don’t get to do that.
And then there’s their logic. This is a disease with a median survival of 15 months. Their first patient died less than 6 weeks after the surgery, while the second lived for a year, which the report says “buoyed the doctors and seemed to bolster their theory”. That makes no sense at all — with so few trials they can’t possibly make that kind of assessment. Furthermore, their third patient died of sepsis.
At least it sounds like we’ll have something to talk about. That seems a paltry reward for three people’s deaths.
(via The Tree of Life)