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Stem Cells in China
December 2, 2004 3:38 AM   Subscribe

First look look into the surgery of of Dr Huang Hongyun who cultivates the cells of aborted foetuses and injects them into the brains and spines of his patients. His method is controversial, but his results have led hundreds of westerners to his Beijing surgery. (MI)
posted by brettski (28 comments total)

 
The same journalist had a facinating report on last nights Newsnight on BBC (only available until 22:30 GMT 2nd Dec) - it's about half way through the programme.
posted by brettski at 3:42 AM on December 2, 2004


And if you think thats weird - fancy a experimental Chinese skull drilling, brain burning procedure to cure you of drug addiction?

Where is the future?
posted by gofojo at 3:56 AM on December 2, 2004


Shanghai?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 4:16 AM on December 2, 2004


This, if scientifically proven to actually work, could substantially affect my views on abortion.

This is my new BEST OF MEFI, brettski. Good job.
posted by shepd at 4:34 AM on December 2, 2004



posted by three blind mice at 4:44 AM on December 2, 2004


From the article:
None of these claims has been proven to western scientific standards...

So let's not get our hopes up quite yet.
posted by PenDevil at 4:58 AM on December 2, 2004


A pretty telling comment here:
According to Golden's doctors, his spine was damaged beyond repair in a car crash last Christmas. The damage to his nervous system was so bad that he has been in a wheelchair and racked by spasms ever since. But Golden refused to give up, even if it meant having to compromise his values. "This is the only place that offered us any hope," he says. "Everyone else offered only to help make me sufficient in that chair. But the chair is not my destiny. It is not ordained."
It's amazing how quickly this guys Christian anti-abortion views went out the window when he was offered hope of curing his own ailment. This guy was crippled, had no hope and this completely unproven procedure offered him some. The end result: Yeah, abortion's evil and all but gimme some of 'm baby cells!

One thing that disturbs me about the procedure is this:
Complicating the debate is Huang's lack of statistical data and and his refusal to carry out the double-blind trials considered necessary in western circles to rule out the placebo effect.
Sorry, but a double blind study is how you prove that your procedure works.
posted by substrate at 5:09 AM on December 2, 2004


substrate - His point on the film was that it would be illegal in China to do such a procedure and then inject a placebo into someone's brain, and he also felt it unethical not to provide the treatment to a suffering patient who'd sold everything and flown half way around the world..... (I'm just filling in the gaps, not agreeing!)
posted by brettski at 5:16 AM on December 2, 2004


This is such a sensitive topic, isn't it? I'm interested to follow it, though, and see what results.

I found it interesting that the doctor wasn't willing to perform the double-blind experiments. I understand that the use of the DB is needed to validate research, but I can also see his point that it would be unethical to pretend to treat people as well as not treat people, just to be able to prove a thing. I'm guessing that this will be resolved by the sick people, who will vote "with their feet" by going there for treatment regardless of the opinions of Western medicine.
posted by PossumCowboy at 5:40 AM on December 2, 2004


I found it interesting that the doctor wasn't willing to perform the double-blind experiments.

thus the difference between an MD and a PhD.

more on the "doctor" here
posted by three blind mice at 6:03 AM on December 2, 2004


Interesting and somewhat related article, focusing mostly on unbilical cord stem cell research here at reason. A bit more pessimistic than what's presented above.
posted by mragreeable at 6:11 AM on December 2, 2004


Note they're not using stem cells for this treatment, and Huang dismisses the potential use for them altogether:

Although Huang is one of the first in the world to use foetal OECs on humans, research on cell implants goes back more than two decades. In western animal laboratories, researchers are testing the possible benefits of stem cells on neurological disorders, but Huang dismisses such studies. He says Chinese doctors have already attempted stem-cell transplants on humans with poor results. "In clinical trials in China, stem cells have failed to meet expectations. I believe that in two or three years' time, US doctors will realise this."
posted by CKZ at 6:20 AM on December 2, 2004


In other Chinese medical news, it is well known that the ground up powdered parts of anything endangered makes your willy hard.

Really, how much money has he made off of this thus far?

I firmly believe in the medical potential of stem cells, but I get the impression that this guy is touting the benefits of stem cells the same way many tout the benefits of gensing, only much pricier and more dangerous.

In other words, without the double-blind, I consider it a form of Voodoo. Really high tech Voodoo (the high-tech part eases the bamboozle factor), but still Voodoo.
posted by sourwookie at 6:57 AM on December 2, 2004


mmmMMmmmm... baby feet soup!

*SLURP*
posted by Jeremy at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2004


It's amazing how quickly this guys Christian anti-abortion views went out the window when he was offered hope of curing his own ailment.

I know the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in a small Northeastern city. She says it's not uncommon for an anti-abortion protester to come in for an abortion, and then later go back to the picket lines set up out front. Everyone is pro-choice when it's about their own family. The anti-abortion position only comes into play when you are trying to control someone else's behavior and there's no personal downside for you.
posted by alms at 7:32 AM on December 2, 2004


thus the difference between an MD and a PhD.

TBM, care to clarify on this statement?

While MD's have a responsibility to ensure their patients' welfare, with new procedures of this type one can't be sure that they're actually efficacious unless a properly controlled study is done. Going along with this, there is a strong tradition in medicine of reporting successful results; Dr. Huang's unwillingness to divulge some specifics of his method (culture media formulation, for example) and the absence of any relevant reports at all on pubmed (at least that I could find) is in itself something of a blow against his credibility. I don't want to imply that Dr. Huang is profiteering or intentionally peddling false hope; there just is not good evidence that his procedure has any real effect. That said, given the invasiveness of this procedure I can't see how a full double-blinded study could be performed. There are still ways to gauge the effectiveness of this treatment method that could help remove some of the confounding of the placebo effect.
posted by monocyte at 7:38 AM on December 2, 2004


monocyte: TBM, care to clarify on this statement?

But when I ask him how it works, he replies: "Actually, I don't know. The mechanism is not clear. But we must face the facts. Any scientist who comes and sees the patients will see the same results as me."

try giving that answer in a thesis defense and see if you walk out with your PhD.
posted by three blind mice at 8:16 AM on December 2, 2004


try giving that answer in a thesis defense and see if you walk out with your PhD.

I would argue that in the circles of academia, you are quite correct. I would also argue that sometimes results speak for themselves.
posted by PossumCowboy at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2004


This is definitely worth a look.
posted by agregoli at 9:46 AM on December 2, 2004


I say, if the people he has treated are walking, talking and improving still in a couple of years that we would have to say "the proof is in the pudding." At that point, of course, someone would really try and figure out just what is going on.
posted by Yellowbeard at 9:50 AM on December 2, 2004


"But when I ask him how it works, he replies: "Actually, I don't know. The mechanism is not clear. But we must face the facts. Any scientist who comes and sees the patients will see the same results as me."

I recall recent mefi discussion about a similar procedure called "trepanation" where people had a hole drilled in their skulls and got all sorts of placebo-like effects afterwards.

http://www.ee0r.com/trepan.html
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f03/web3/l1kallich.html

Maybe the mechanism is related to drilling a hole in the skull.

He claims to not be able to do a double blind experiment, but he could if he would fully anaesthetize patients instead of leaving them awake during the procedure. If it was discovered that when patients were put fully under they had no change in condition afterwords, it would indicate this whole thing is just placebo effects from the shock of the procedure itself.
posted by archae at 12:14 PM on December 2, 2004


Alms
I know the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in a small Northeastern city. She says it's not uncommon for an anti-abortion protester to come in for an abortion, and then later go back to the picket lines set up out front. Everyone is pro-choice when it's about their own family. The anti-abortion position only comes into play when you are trying to control someone else's behavior and there's no personal downside for you

Your story reminds me of the time before lightning rods were used to keep houses from burning to the ground from electrical storms.

It was "God's will" that your house would get struck by lightning. If your worldly possessions and livelihood burned to the ground: suck it up, it's God's will.

Neighbors wouldn't even help put the fire out because it would be interfering with God's will.

Then lightning rods were invented and after a while it just wasn't an ecumenical issue, anymore.

That's why whenever I see idiots post pictures of fetus feet/hands/whatever, I hold my tongue and remember lightning rods and scientific progress dragging the idiots along into the future, so that they can post deliberately provocative pictures of fetuses.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2004


The trouble with results speaking for themselves is that 'themselves' could be just about anything, including (in some of these cases) trepanation (caution: moderately gruesome imagery in link). Disallowing the whole double blind procedure as well as hiding the stem cell multiplier mix reduces the entire process to guesswork and snake oil (if he's so keen on doing good - why is he making sure he's the only person who knows how to do it?). Personally, I want the guy drilling a hole in my skull to damn well know as much about what he's doing as possible via db, peer review and good, honest medical science. It's a thing.

On preview: Archae - clearly great minds think alike.
posted by Sparx at 12:49 PM on December 2, 2004


I know the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in a small Northeastern city. She says it's not uncommon for an anti-abortion protester to come in for an abortion, and then later go back to the picket lines set up out front. Everyone is pro-choice when it's about their own family. The anti-abortion position only comes into play when you are trying to control someone else's behavior and there's no personal downside for you.

This is the biggest pile of bullshit. Keep telling yourselves this.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:28 PM on December 2, 2004


This is the biggest pile of bullshit. Keep telling yourselves this.

You're right, "pro-life" people changing their moral stance when it suits them: that really is bullshit. Very hypocritical. For once I agree with you, S@L.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:16 PM on December 2, 2004


Substrate: I, too, was irritated by the man's eagerness to benefit from something he found immoral. Make lemonade with lemons indeed.

And I haven't heard much about protesters frequenting clinics (although I wouldn't be that surprised; hypocrisy is a human trait), but I agree with Alms that the pro-life issue is about control. I find the expression "if you're against abortion, don't have one" apropos when being lectured on the immorality of abortion rights. I tend to get a wee bit tichy when people try to foist their beliefs on me, whether it be issues about religion, consumerism, abortion, etc. The arrogance that is inherent in their preachiness is as insulting as it is frustrating.
posted by Specklet at 3:43 PM on December 2, 2004


Back to this transplantation thing - I wonder how they got around the immune system (ie., organ rejection). The lack of having to give immune suppressive therapy is one of the major advantages of (researching) using a patient's own stem cells...
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:08 PM on December 2, 2004


Purple Porpoise, suppressive therapy is not necessary because fetal cells do not have antigenicity; they can't cause a reaction...
posted by Specklet at 4:16 PM on December 2, 2004


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