These folks can't wait for health reform from Washington; they're searching for options now. The reader tells me he's read about a miracle cancer treatment called Gc macrophage activating factor (Gc-MAF). He wanted to know if I could look into Gc-MAF, see if it's legit.
I don't think I make light of the situation if I reply, "I'm a blogger, not an oncologist."
My reader does not mistake blogging for biomedical brilliance. He just asks if I could do a little Internet reading, check some sources, see if my BS meter goes off.
So I read.
First, the description of the treatment, from an article my reader sends:
Normal Gc protein (also called Vitamin-D binding protein) , an abundant glyco-protein found in human blood serum, becomes the molecular switch to activate macrophages when it is converted to its active form, called Gc macrophage activating factor (Gc-MAF). Gc protein is normally activated by conversion to Gc-MAF with the help of the B and T cells (bone marrow-made and thymus gland-made white blood cells). But, as researchers explain it themselves, cancer cells secrete an enzyme known as alpha-N-acetylgalactosaminidase (also called Nagalase) that completely blocks conversion of Gc protein to Gc-MAF, preventing tumor-cell killing by the macrophages. This is the way cancer cells escape detection and destruction, by disengaging the human immune system. This also leaves cancer patients prone to infections and many then succumb to pneumonia or other infections.
The once-weekly injection of minute amounts of Gc-MAF, just 100 nanograms (billionths of a gram), activates macrophages and allows the immune system to pursue cancer cells with vigor, sufficient to produce total long-term cures in humans [Bill Sardi and Timothy Hubbell, "Cancer Cured for Good," National Health Federation*, October 2008].
Natural protein. Complete remissions for years. No side effects. 30 weekly injections, $150 a shot. $4500 total, cancer gone.
And nobody is using it. Conspiracy theories bubble up: Dr. Yamamoto is trying to lock the therapy up in patents (here's the extraction process) to get rich; Big Pharma wants to suppress the therapy to protect its investment in more expensive treatments.
So tell me, which narrative would you prefer to believe:
- Gc-MAF is a cheap, simple treatment that would save lives of people you know and love. It's right around the corner. We just have to nab a couple greedy bad guys to save everyone.
- Gc-MAF is the only slightly better than Carter's Little Liver Pills, based on a theory with some potential, but not curing anything. The people you love will have to suffer with their cancer and with the current , difficult, expensive treatments... which may not succeed.
- Small studies: Yamamoto has worked with maybe a couple dozen patients at a time; claims of "cure" require thousands of patients.
- Bad research design: Yamamoto's patients all had standard treatment as well. What cured the cancer: Gc-MAF or the usual surgery, chemo, and/or radiation?
- No monitoring of tumor growth, at least not by normal measures.
- No tests to show the injected Gc-MAF actually activated the macrophages (the cells eating the cancer).
- No follow-up past a few years (even without Gc-MAF or other miracles, "80 per cent of all women with breast cancer survive for at least 5 years").
- No top-tier journal citations.
- "Virtually all" of the journal references in Yamamoto's bibliographies are to his own research. Now here on the blog, I refer to many of my own previous writings, just to remind people of things we've already discussed. But when I really want to prove a point, I link to articles besides my own. In real science, that's all the more important.
I won't pretend to know more than I do. I cold read all of Dr. Yamamoto's publications, but I'm not qualified to assess them. I can only trust better scientific judgments and tack on some speculation of my own. I can imagine myself in the shoes of Dr. Yamamoto: if I had a cancer treatment, and I knew it worked, I'd have a blog, a bullhorn, and big neon sign saying, "Come see me now, I'll cure your cancer!" That Dr. Yamamoto isn't doing that does not require that I believe he's hiding something or plotting to corner the market. A simpler explanation suffices: Yamamoto knows full well his research has not produced a magic bullet for cancer (and, as Arney notes, Yamamoto has never made that claim explicitly). He knows much work remains to be done, and he knows it would be irresponsible to raise false hopes or, worse, to shoot desperate people up with a drug he can't say with medical certainty will do what they think it will.
Loyal readers, your informed input is welcome. But remember: this isn't just a blog game of corporate conspiracy theories. This is real life, real suffering, and the only way to help people is with real science.
*The Sardi & Hubbell article appears to have been originally published on LewRockwell.com. I notice that the version my reader sent me comes from the National Health Federation, an organization that has presented "Health Freedom Awards" to Governor Jesse Ventura and Congressman Ron Paul. Bill Sardi himself is at least as protective of his intellectual propoerty rights as Dr. Yamamoto, if not more: he deleted his own health info website, KnowledgeOfHealth.com, rather than wrestle with "the burden of enforcing our copyrights" online.
And... uh oh: Bill Sardi has some anti-science leanings that call into question his understanding of hard science. (See his comment and PZ Myers's reply on Pharyngula.)
Note also that Dr. Yamamoto directs the "Socrates Institute for Therapeutic Immunology," a non-profit with $23,305 in total assets and absolutely no Web presence.