A clinical trial conducted in 2006 by Dr. Claudia I.Henschke at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City that concluded 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans, and reported here in the NY Times – looks like it is dying its final breaths of respectability.
The widely publicized study ostensibly involved more than 50,000 patients at multiple hospitals. Ostensibly, because verification beyond the study author’s say-so isn’t possible – the doctors now admit that they are unable to locate 90% of the consent forms for the their clinical trial.
But that isn’t even the punchline, which is this: the ongoing ‘clinical trial’ was and continues to be financed with millions in grant money from the parent company of the Liggett Group, a cigarette maker, manufacturer of Grand Prix, Eve and Liggett Select cigarette brands.
In response to criticism of these revelations, Weil Cornell commissioned professors to undertake an independent review of Dr. Henschke’s so-called International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (the name for her ongoing ‘clinical trial’). The the reviewers were unable to discover if Henschke ever obtained the consent forms – which of course means they are unable to verify if the data Henschke reported had anything at all to do with actual humans, or was simply falsified.
This creates a problem for a number of organizations, not just Weill Cornell: other organizations that have helped to finance Henschke’s research including such august institutions as the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health must now determine if/how/when to correct or retract findings from any Henschke study that is unable to produce consent forms, since any study underwritten by an organization is required to conform to federal research rules.
Whether the study and its author will join the ignominious ranks of ‘autism doc’ Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor accused of falsifying research claiming a link between vaccines and autism – research that birthed a movement of non-vaccination resulting in illness and death – remains to be seen. But this story does raise the question about media reporting on scientific research.
Though experts found Dr. Wakefield’s research in-credible almost from the get-go, the media’s breathless reporting of skeptics and doubters (especially blonde, busty famous ones like Jenny McCarthy) seemed to lend validity to Wakefield and his research — even when on not-very-close inspection anyone could see that the skeptics and doubters all had a heartbreakingly vested interest in Wakefield being right – i.e. they were parents of autistic children, not scientists.
How much responsibility does the media have to investigate whether one side or the other of an issue is demonstrably wrong, and giving more airtime to the truth rather than the truth deniers?
And what does this demonstrably weak and systematic failure to properly vet clinical trials say about the usefulness of these trials when they can’t be proven valid and reliable? Time and again, the gold standard of clinical trials is held up as a way to prevent or denigrate treatments the medical establishment deems alternative, or controversial: CCSVI intervention for MS, functional cancer treatment programs featuring ‘radical’ therapies such as hyperthermia, and ASC adult stem cell treatments are often denounced by practitioners of conventional Western medical practices (surgical and pharmaceutical intervention in a disease model). While there is no doubt of the value of the soundness of a properly conducted clinical trial, it appears the scientists themselves are leaving plenty of room for doubt about the validity and reliability of the entire clinical trial process and therefore its role in truly protecting/championing patient safety.