nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quackery Is Flourishing On Stem Cell Opportunities, Says CBS

CBS "60 Minutes" program shows that people are still vulnerable to high-tech flummery.

Watching the video on conmen who promise cures using stem cell techniques that don't exist was really sad.  The patients profiled suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  The progressive paralytic condition has no known cure, patients suffer increasing lack of control and strength of all muscles in the body, and once diagnosed is universally lethal with an average life expectancy of 5 years.  See image for endstage disease.

Can you imagine how desperate you would become if given that prognosis?  It's no wonder that people are willing to fork over huge sums--in one of the highlighted cases, $125,000--for the promise of cure.  Under a death sentence  money makes no difference, and critical faculties can go out the window.

General rule:  if something sounds too good to be true, it is.  Watching Part 1 of the CBS video, put yourself in the place of the sufferer who is being assured of a "way out" of what he's been told is a death sentence.  How rational would you be under these circumstances?  The entire video is too long for most of us (13min), but you can skip the first few minutes while the narrator sets the stage. 

Then check out Part 2, where Lawrence Stowe, of Stowe Biotherapy, is confronted by the producers.  The sequence is a classic demonstration of psychopathic indifference.  Again too long (11min), but just watching part of it might help when the next conman approaches you.

I've seen patients turn from what medical science can offer when the treatment is painful, unpleasant, expensive, or misperceived.  It's incumbent upon doctors to know when their patients are torn by conflict, to work through their concerns and provide alternatives where necessary.  I would much rather try a less than perfect antibiotic that will do the job in most cases, and is cheaper, than have patients rely on Echinacea, or other herbs and enchantments.


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