Surgeons hide bone treatment risks

Medical research is a pay-for-play business. If you're willing to pay, researchers will play.

Here's the latest: A handful of surgeons came out with a series of glowing "studies" claiming that a new bone treatment procedure had virtually no risks.

No risks, huh?

Nothing sets off my BS meter like those two little words -- especially when you're talking about something as complex as a bioengineered protein used to spur bone growth during spinal fusion surgeries.

Sure enough, a new look at the data found that anywhere between 10 percent and 50 percent of patients suffered conditions such as male sterility, infection, increased pain, bone loss and -- picture the horror of this one -- unwanted bone growth.

Are we talking an extra arm here... or just a sixth finger?

Of course, there's a reason researchers were so willing to overlook these risks -- 62 million reasons, to be precise. Fifteen of the key surgeons behind 13 Infuse studies collected a combined $62 million in payments from Medtronic for other work, according to The Spine Journal, which devoted an entire issue to the scandal.

And to this day, some of those researchers remain positively delusional.

Dr. Thomas A. Zdeblick, who co-authored three of the studies, told the New York Times he had no "direct financial interest in the success of Infuse or Medtronic."

Is this guy for real?

The Times says Zdeblick collected more than $20 million in royalties from the company for his patents on several devices, including one used with Infuse.

"No direct financial interest" my rear end!

But there's a bigger problem here -- way bigger than Zdeblick or Infuse -- and that's the peer review process, which is now exposed for the joke that it is.

Every one of those 13 studies made it through -- which shows that peers aren't doing a whole lot of reviewing.

Think about THAT the next time you read a breathless report on the next big drug or medical device.