We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gc-MAF: Miracle Cancer Treatment or Snake Oil?

A reader calls, tells me his wife has cancer. He says they've applied to participate in a trial of a new cancer drug. If they're accepted, the insurance company will cover it. If not, they could pay $300K to get similar treatment.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
This post on the Cancer Research UK "Science Update" blog appears to support the latter. Dr. Kat Arney says Yamamoto is on the right track to investigate using the body's own immune system to fight cancer. However, she finds these flaws Yamamoto's claims:
  1. Small studies: Yamamoto has worked with maybe a couple dozen patients at a time; claims of "cure" require thousands of patients.
  2. 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?
  3. No monitoring of tumor growth, at least not by normal measures.
  4. No tests to show the injected Gc-MAF actually activated the macrophages (the cells eating the cancer).
  5. 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").
  6. No top-tier journal citations.
  7. "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.
The comments section of this post by Arney adds some instructive back-and-forth.

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.


  1. There are already natural treatments for cancer out there. Dr. L. Day a medical surgeon refused the "standard: cut, burn and poison" treatment. She's alive today by using a natural treatment.
    The cancer "industry" makes billions of $$ yearly. Are they going to want to give this up? Is a single payer plan going to change this?
    The man who had great success curing cancer in the 30's was so persecuted by our government he died of alcoholism and depression.
    So if you want to read about a conspiracy story read about Royal Rife or do a search on "cancer industry".

  2. I recently lost a relative to cancer and found myself searching the internet for information on different treatments before her death. Unfortunately, there is an entire industry out there based on using the desperation of those with the disease and those around them to make money. After looking for several weeks, I came to the conclusion that unless I found published and peer reviewed journal articles on the topic I couldn't trust the information.

    Cancer is an unbelievably complicated disease and generally simple treatments that are sold online are simply snake oil. Luckily, the National Institute of Health which funds most of the work in this area requires that any publication generated from research they funded be put into an electronic archive with free and full public access.


    If one considers using an "alternative" treatment for cancer, I urge you to find relevant papers in this database before administrating it. I found studies in this database of several "alternative" treatments online that being hailed as the cancer cure which turned out to be garbage. In one case, the treatment would have caused serious detrimental health effects.

  3. A person should ask their physician or organic healthcare provider about Coral Calcium. Maintaining proper PH level is critical to the body's immune system, and some feel Coral Calcium from Okinawa, Japan, is a supplement that helps maintain a proper alkaline PH level. The folks that promote PH level health indicate cancer cannot thrive in an alkaline body. It can thrive in an acidic body. Here is some info, but this also may be snake oil. Coral Advantage is available through most health food stores.

    "Your body operates ideally within a narrow pH range of 7.36 - 7.44. It is naturally more alkaline than acidic; eventhough, some of the systems (like the digestive system) are acid. If the pH levels get too acid, a condition called acidosis can occur. Acidosis occurs when your blood pH level falls below 7.30. How does this impact you? In many way! One of those is fatigue. It has been stated that to be healthy the body cannot be acid. It must maintain the proper pH levels."

    Personally, I've taken coral calcium from Okinawa, Japan for over a decade as a preventative health product. Does it work? There's plenty to read about it.

  4. Anonymous 1 - It's impossible to know if someone is alive today due to a natural treatment in the absence of double blind clinical trials. An old school site that still has relevance, including Dr. Day, is
    A more modern blog on the weaknesses of testimonials.
    That Dr. Day thinks the medical establishment is part of a jewish conspiracy is also disturbing.

    There is a federal grant panel devoted to giving research dollars to studying alternative treatments. To date, I am unaware of any of this research coming up with cures.

    Tony is correct about maintaining doubt until research hits peer review. There are also clinical trial databases out there as well that may or may not lead to quality treatments. If you are searching for hope and looking to alternatives I would suggest that 1) Don't take anything that causes harm. Some treatments interfere with cancer drugs. Check with your Doc. 2) Hesitate to give your money to purveyors of snake oil. If they can't be bothered to publish, and their reasoning involves a conspiracy, keep away. In most cases you're skipping the research dept. and going directly to marketing.

    There is also nothing compelling about coral calcium.
    Claims that coral calcium can cure cancer is one of the things that got that infomercial guy in trouble with the FTC when they fined him 2 mil for making false claims.

    Claims to pH are also lacking solid foundation.

    The FDA also has some helpful links to companies pushing fake cancer cures.

    As for the topic at hand, the original analysis is on point. The treatment doesn't seem quite ready for prime time, but I'd have to read through the papers to say anything more, and I doubt I could contribute beyond what was posted on the cancer research blog.

    That the PI doesn't appear to be putting out press releases prior to publication puts this work a step above the other examples cited above. But Sardi latching onto it makes me nervous. As does the apparent lack of splash this work seems to have generated in the field.


    the article is found at:

    "Immunotherapy of metastatic colorectal cancer with vitamin
    D-binding protein-derived macrophage-activating factor, GcMAF"Cancer Immunol Immunother (2008) 57:1007–1016

    If you read the actual article you will find that there was follow up on these patients for 7 years after therapy. In addition, Dr. Yamamoto clearly mentions what follow up measures were taken to assess if cancer truly was eliminated. Pts received CT scans and MRI to assure they were free from cancer. I am a University of Michigan student and was able to access this article from there electronic database.


  6. Dr Kat Arney1/23/2009 4:57 AM

    For the record, I am not denying that this is authentic peer-reviewed research, as you will see from the blog. I am pointing out that it is being over-hyped, and that we should look more carefully at the scientific evidence that is presented in those papers.

    It is an interesting field, but much more work needs to be done before we know for sure that it is a viable treatment for cancer.

  7. Yamamoto has caught the tiger by the tail with this discovery. A discovery like this deserves a nobel prize. Why? Though this may not be a tumor eliminative therapy in advanced cases, it is however a therapy that can convert post therapeutic "remissions" into full and complete cures. This is HUGE. Keep in mind, the biggest discovery here is not simply the treatment, but the link to immune suppression and the discovery of the most relevant and sensitive tumor marker (Nagalase). Any skeptics are simply naive and ignorant cowards. It is due to that type of attitude that this worlds progress in every area is stunted. The corrupt powers that be have turned our brilliant scientific minds into mind controlled cowardly and skeptical corporate slaves instead of independent and innovative thinkers and pioneers. Researchers MUST stand up to the broken system! Enough is Enough!

  8. Readers should note that the above comment is all assertion and no substance. VB makes the blanket statement that any skeptics are naive and ignorant cowards but fails to offer any evidence to support that personal attack on every skeptic. VB also fails to offer any evidence that the skeptics are factually wrong. You don't win an argument (or prove a cancer drug works) by calling your opponents dummies.

  9. I've read Yamamoto's other papers and actually spoken with him. Earlier papers reported, in peer reviewed journals, that Nagalase levels fell from every effective cancer treatment examined, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and GcMAF therapy.

    I expect they'd also fall from Dr. Zheng Cui's Leukocyte InFusion Therapy, LIFT. That uses white blood cell infusions from cancer resistant donors (in the summer) to attack cancer cells in the recipient. It has worked once or twice and is in an FDA approved clinical trial now in a South Florida Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplant Institute. The Life Extension Foundation has just provided another $600k after an earlier $200k to fund the trial.

    I hope the clinical trial will use Nagalase level testing to ensure that they picked good donors with high levels of cancer killing granulocytes. Indeed, I am now engaged in searching for the details of the process of testing Nagalase levels in blood serum.

    Since Yamamoto performed three clinical trials with fifteen cancer patients each and also followed up for five to ten or more years with both Nagalase testing and other more conventional ways of looking for recurrence of cancer, I am convinced that the 100 percent cure rate is real. I cannot think that he's an absolute fraud. That prospect seems quite unlikely for such a dedicated and honorable scientist working for so long on this issue.


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.