You didn’t get enough yesterday? Here’s another gag-inducing story from Jonathan Eisen. A while back, an MD at UC Davis tried an experimental cancer treatment on three patients: to amplify the immune response to a glioma, they injected fecal bacteria into the patients’ heads.
Two UC Davis neurosurgeons were treating terminally ill brain cancer patients with an unapproved, experimental treatment that is referred to as “Probiotic Intracranial Therapy for Malignant Glioma”. The treatment involved purposefully infecting patients brains with a bacterium Enterobacter aerogenes apparently because of prior anecdotes and case reports that suggested that patients with these brain cancers who also had brain infections might live longer than those with the cancer but without the infection. According to the article, there was an investigation at UC Davis into the practices of the surgeons. It was determined by UC Davis that they did not have IRB approval to carry out the treatments and that there were some other issues with the practice going on. At the conclusion of the investigation UC Davis wrote a letter to the FDA detailing the case and has banned the two neurosurgeons from performing medical research on humans.
Notice that key statement? No IRB approval. They just skipped that whole institutional review thing and squirted something radical, untested, and backed only by anecdote into the heads of very sick people. Two died within weeks, another died a year later.
What happened to the doctors? They left UC Davis after a review found their behavior unethical.
I know what some of you are saying: Oh, no, another important researcher hounded out of science by a politically correct witch hunt. How dare they ruin his career? But don’t you worry. Once you reach those exalted levels where you get to ignore trivial ethical constraints, no amount of protest can affect you.
Dr Paul Muizelaar has a new job at Marshall University in West Virginia. The university knew all about his history.
At UC Davis, the live bowel bacteria had been purchased for study involving lab rats. But Muizelaar and the other doctor introduced the bacteria into open head wounds on a man and two women in 2010 and 2011. Each had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor. Muizelaar said all three consented to the procedures, which were done with the hope that their immune systems would be stimulated.
A UC Davis statement said internal investigations found school policies were circumvented, research regulations were violated and directives made by university leaders were defied.
That’s just astonishing. Read that last paragraph again. Yet Marshall thought it was a great idea to hire this guy. I can’t say it’s a case of falling upwards — UC Davis seems to have some ethical standards, while Marshall is untroubled by them — but he’s at least flopped down into a nice soft cushion.