Update on the NIH “Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy”

(Some of the following is identical to a post on Science-Based Medicine dated 9/26/08.)

A few days ago, while gathering information for a post on Science-Based Medicine about intravenous hydrogen peroxide, I noticed this:

ACAM Supports NIH Decision to Suspend TACT Trial

September 3, 2008, Laguna Hills, Calif. — The American College for Advancement in Medicine, ACAM today announced its support for the National Institute for Health’s (NIH) decision to suspend patient accrual of the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) Trial until allegations of impropriety can be proven false. ACAM believes that the TACT trial represents a important milestone in assessing the role of chelation therapy in modern healthcare and respects the decision of the NIH.

ACAM continue to work with Dr Tony Lamas to answer the unfounded allegations of impropriety.

“We believe that the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) will find that the allegations are of a political nature. To serve the best interests of participants enrolled in the TACT trial and all patients and their physicians who seek answers about chelation therapy, we call for a swift end to the moratorium and resumption of the trial,” said Jeanne Drisko, MD, President of ACAM.

I alerted a few others, including Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch, who queried the news room of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI: the joint sponsor, along with the NCCAM, of the trial) and got this reply:

The investigators and institutions performing the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT), in conjunction with their Institutional Review Boards, have temporarily and voluntarily suspended enrollment of new participants in the study. NIH has not issued any announcement or press release about this action. To contact the Office for Human Research Protections’ (OHRP) press office, call Pat El-Hinnawy, (202) 253-0458.

The “allegations of impropriety” mentioned in the ACAM press release had been made by my co-authors and me in a comprehensive article previously introduced on Health Care Renewal here. The article is available in its entirety here. In June, we made a formal complaint to the federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP), citing that article and additional information posted on Science-Based Medicine here. That our complaint was the instigating factor for the recent “decision to suspend patient accrual” is suggested by an email that I received last week:

I would like to know who is paying you guys off. Finally we have a chance to assess Chelation therapy and put the issue to rest and to find out whether or not it really works and you bozos screw it all up. I know that the trial was stopped and it is your fault. What are you afraid of? Why are you not decrying all of the injuries caused by medications and unnecessary surgeries? Why are we the citizens of the US deprived of a trial of EDTA so that we can judge for ourselves?

Anyone who is a thinking man, can only be disappointed in you. [sic]

Binyamin Rothstein, D.O.

Rothstein, unlike many of his fellow ACAM members, does not appear to be a TACT investigator. Like them, however, he touts chelation, intravenous hydrogen peroxide, and other baseless and dangerous treatments. He has harmed patients, his protestations nothwithstanding. His medical license was revoked in 2005, but that hasn’t hindered him from using smoke and mirrors in his relentless pursuit of profit from nonsense. He’s even managed to promote himself to the public without revealing key items from his resumé—one of the many reasons that even the most diligent regulation can’t always protect the public from scoundrels.

At least two reporters have recently covered the story (here and here). They mostly get it right. The AP report, however, states that chelation "is mainly used to treat lead poisoning." That is not technically false, but is misleading because disodium EDTA (Na2EDTA), the drug used in the TACT, has never been approved for lead poisoning and is considerably more dangerous than calcium EDTA, the drug that is so approved. Ironically, one of our objections to the TACT is that its literature---including protocols, consent forms, and subject recruitment pitches---conflates the two drugs so as to make the study drug appear safer than it is.

Indeed, the FDA has recently withdrawn its approval of Na2EDTA, citing "important safety information" and the possibility that it may be confused with the less dangerous CaEDTA:

As noted in the January 16, 2008, Public Health Advisory, there have been cases where children and adults have died when they were mistakenly given edetate disodium instead of edetate calcium disodium (calcium disodium versenate) or when edetate disodium was used for indications other than those approved by FDA.

Readers might remember that we at HCR have previously discussed the important distinction between the two EDTA salts, after a 5-year old boy was killed in Pennsylvania when a quack administered Na2EDTA to him as a treatment for autism. At the time a CDC expert was so surprised that anyone would infuse Na2EDTA that she concluded, erroneously, that it must have been a drug error: "a case of look-alike/sound-alike medications." The PA medical board's investigation subsequently confirmed that the practitioner had intended to give Na2EDTA, exactly as we had predicted.

The TACT should now be stopped altogether. Contrary to the ACAM press release, our objections to the TACT are scrupulously documented and not “of a political nature.” They are of a scientific and ethical nature. They will not be proven false, because the evidence for them is overwhelming.

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