medical research

  1. Spinal scandal

    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.

  2. Time to end the worst practice in medicine

    Next time you run out of toilet paper, reach for the nearest medical journal.

    In one of the greatest scandals of modern medicine, Big Pharma is using ghostwriters and shady third-party companies to secretly buy its way into the pages of what are supposed to be respectable publications.

    It's so out of control that, for once, I'm actually in favor of the government getting involved, as Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is threatening to do.

    Me agreeing with a politician? Yes, it's really that bad.

    Here's how it works: Big Pharma desperately needs some positive press for a dubious new med. So they hire a ghostwriting firm to conduct a "study," which – lo and behold – shows how perfectly wonderful this drug is.

    The firm then recruits an ethically challenged doctor at a hoity-toity medical school to attach his or her name to it. But besides cashing a paycheck, they've done none of the work.

    Finally, the ghostwriters give the drug company a chance to look over the study before they submit it to a carefully targeted journal – one they know is unlikely to reject it.

    The finished product is little more than an ad dressed up as research.

    It's makes my skin crawl, as I've told you before. But the real outrage is that this shady, deceitful and shameful practice is still going on.

    The list of meds pushed in these made-to-order "studies" reads like a roll call of the worst drug disasters of modern times: Vioxx, Fen-phen, and hormone treatments that turned out to increase the risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease.

    Sen. Grassley wants the National Institutes of Health, which underwrites most medical research, to start enforcing ethical guidelines when it issues a grant, but they've been reluctant to do so.

    Why? Are they lazy? Or worse, are they hiding something?

    For the record, Big Pharma won't even dare ask me to endorse one of their so-called studies. Not only do they know what the answer will be, they also know how quickly I'll blow the whistle and let you in on all their dirty drug secrets. One more reason those companies have dartboards with my picture on it.

    It's time to end this bad practice for good. And those greedy doctors who participated should be banished to a desolate island somewhere with a lifetime supply of the meds they "studied."

    Until then, we should send their research where it belongs – down the toilet.

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