Day: February 22, 2007

Folklore Based Medicine?

Breast cancer theory supports African folklore –

While they stressed that women should always get screening and quick treatment for breast cancer, they said their theory could also help explain the belief, widespread in parts of Africa and the United States, that removing a tumor can hasten death. “I must say that I am sure there is more to this than just a myth,” said Michael Retsky of Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. His latest hypothesis, which he admits is not supported by any new direct research, is published in the International Journal of Surgery. He stressed that any woman with breast cancer should get the tumor removed. And he noted that in the United States, the women who could be considered at risk of having their cancer spread now get chemotherapy anyway, which would stop cancer’s spread.

Note, no direct evidence, no double blind trial, just a story? C’mon, you’re a Doctor. Surely, you know that CNN and the other media will take your qualifications, reservations and cautions  and shove them up your you know what to get a nice headline. Most people don’t read past the first two lines anyway, so nothing you say about your reservations will be transmitted to the public.

I hope you get the funding to prove/disprove your contention. Race based differences in treatment outcomes are not well studied, and are potentially very important. It is vital that more people look at this issue. But speculation based on modeling studies does not belong on CNN.

EU's REACH Program's cornucopia of toxicology data

The REACH program from the European Union is an incredibly far reaching (no pun intended, of course!) effort to catalog the effects of chemical compounds on human health. I came across this interesting article at Environmental Science and Technology.

ES&T Online News: Will the EU’s REACH serve researchers’ needs?

Europe’s new chemicals law, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals), will put about $13 billion worth of data on 30,000 substances onto a searchable database made available at no cost on the Internet. It sounds like a dream come true for researchers wanting to design new compounds free of the structures that cause human health hazards. But lack of funding for basic research and concerns about the competence of toxicity tests have dampened expectations among some scientists.

Well, D’uh, any program that big is bound to have some problems. But the shifting of burden of proof away from the regulators to industry is a big deal and will lead to a lot of self regulation. Companies will have to prove that their chemicals are safe.

John Warner, a synthetic organic chemist at the University of Massachusetts, says REACH will be effective at pushing companies to select safer alternatives that are already on the market. But for the many reagents and solvents that have no safe alternatives, safe molecules must be designed, and REACH is not structured to promote the design work, Warner says.

Yes, this is an effort to regulate existing and new chemical entities, not an initiative to spur innovation. From the REACH site:

The REACH Regulation gives greater responsibility to industry
to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information
on the substances. Manufacturers and importers will be required
to gather information on the properties of their substances,
which will help them manage them safely, and to register the
information in a central database.

The innovation is going to be market driven by the fear of this regulation. Maybe we will start calling it OVERREACH!