Sunday, April 27, 2008

False claims of doctor who 'can reverse'

A doctor who claimed to be able to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's with an arthritis drug was disciplined last year by US health chiefs for claiming the same drug could halt back pain.

Sensational footage of Dr Edward Tobinick injecting a dementia patient who subsequently appeared to recognise his wife for the first time in five years was shown in Britain earlier this month.

It gave new hope to the 700,000 UK dementia sufferers and their families.

doctorBut this newspaper has learned Dr Tobinick, 56, has previously made unfounded claims that the same drug, etanercept, could cure chronic back and neck pain.

He also has a financial interest in the success of the drug because he owns shares in its manufacturer, Amgen.

Last year Dr Tobinick was disciplined by the Medical Board of California (MBC) after he failed to provide scientific evidence that etanercept was a 'breakthrough' treatment for back pain.

He was found guilty of unprofessional conduct and placed on probation for a year. He was banned from practising for 60 days - but the order was suspended for the period of his probation.

Last year researchers conclusively proved that etanercept was not an effective treatment for back pain, although Dr Tobinick contests their methods.

In 2001, he was involved in another row when he threatened legal action against a website that challenged claims he made about his patented laser hair removal treatment.

Dr Tobinick claims he teaches at the prestigious University Of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and is a member of its clinical faculty.

But a UCLA spokesman said Dr Tobinick merely rented an office in a private building also used by the university's medical centre.

He added that his work was not supported by the university and that any teaching he did was on a voluntary, unpaid basis.

Dr Greg Cole, assistant director of the UCLA Alzheimer's Disease Centre, called Dr Tobinick's Alzheimer's work "suspicious" and said it did not meet clinical trial standards. He added that most doctors were "very sceptical" of his claims.

Etanercept is part of a group of medicines which work by "switching off" a chemical that causes inflammation in the body. It is routinely used to treat rheumatic problems and severe psoriasis.

Dr Tobinick says he has given weekly injections to 50 dementia patients, many of whom have shown continuing improvement in problems such as forgetfulness and confusion.

The drug is injected into the neck near the spinal column and the patient is tilted, supposedly to encourage the drug to seep into the brain.

An Amgen spokeswoman said: "We have carefully examined this study and believe there is insufficient scientific data to support the use of a TNF inhibitor as a means of treating Alzheimer's disease."

Alzheimer's experts in the US have also described Dr Tobinick's findings as "implausible".

When approached by The Mail on Sunday, he said: "Pilot studies are the initial scientific evidence that support further investigation of a new treatment approach. Our results support the initialisation of further large-scale clinical studies.

"This is how all new treatment approaches begin. I feel the disciplinary action was unfair. There is not a single study that shows my treatment methods do not work.

"My breakthrough ideas have been attacked by the scientific community for almost a decade. This is what happens when you are the first in the world to invent a new treatment. It has happened to every medical pioneer throughout history.

"My ideas are legitimate and valid - all of this just points to the fact that my work is ahead of its time."


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