Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Case of the Midwife Toad

Worst Sherlock Holmes pastiche EVAH
Characters continue to escape from unwritten Carl Hiassen novels into the narrative of what we laughingly call "reality". Some might blame Hiassen for failing to maintain a proper Fictive Containment Protocol, but in all fairness the fault devolves upon the Reality Studio, for blurring the boundaries of fiction by stealing Hiassen's plot-lines. So here's Florida Woman Kristin Comella -- guest of America's Favourite Alt-Med Grifter, Chief Scientific Officer of Bioheart Ltd, and YMCA aerobics instructor:
All that is from a lawsuit last year -- since settled for unspecified damages -- after Bioheart blinded a series of customers with an untested, unapproved macular-degeneration 'cure', costing $5000 though masquerading as a "clinical trial", and consisting of body-fat-into-eyeball injections. The company subsequently changed its name to "US Stem Cell", for added patriotism and to avoid confusion with the plethora of other corporate names of the form "Bio***". Most of which will be mentioned below. "Plethora" has the shape of a plural noun but I cannot be arsed looking up what the singular form might be.

Kristen is not the real subject of this post, but she provides a convenient entry-point. Be patient, we will get to the toads soon enough. For Bioheart interrupted their busy schedule of blinding clients, for long enough to put out a cheerful press release about other clinical trials of the magic fat-slurry injections, this time to regenerate damaged hearts. These even led to The Most Influential Paper of 2016 (published in a pay-to-print BMC vanity press), in which it emerged that the "trial" aspect consisted of charging $$$ then asking the suckers customers if they felt any better.

Some data were collected in a TOTALLY LEGIT stem-cell clinic / car-lube workshop in Tijuana, though none of the customers there were formally enrolled in a clinical trial, judging from the absence of updates to the entry in the Trial Registry. It is almost as if people set up 'Clinical trials' merely to cover their alt-med modality with a semblance of official approval. Other data are credited to Dr Himanshu Bansal, who runs "Anupam Hospital" -- a penis-enlargement clinic in a small town in rural India (shown below) -- though he did not even get around to registering a clinical trial with the Indian registry. We read, however, that the non-existent trial
was approved [...] by the ethics committee of Anupam Hosptial [sic] called the Institutional Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (AAH 002/12-13)
which cannot be distinguished from the contents of Bansal's sock drawer.
Note ATM on ground floor

I am not sure whose novel Himanshu Bansal escaped from. He is a man of boundless aspiration and creativity, whose imagination soars beyond the surly bonds of reality. As evinced in the impressive list of totally fraudulent qualifications and academic honours he has heaped upon himself. In India he is regarded as a buffoonish but dangerous con-man, and his continued medical career as an indictment of the corruption and toothlessness of the regulatory authorities. His own bone-marrow-sourced stem-cell extracts cure autism, blindness and spinal-cord severence, because of course they do.

But Bansal has a sharp eye for collaborative outlets for his exercises in fabrication, and has collaborated with Bioheart in yet further advertisements for fat-slurry injection, to cure arthritis ["No Study Results Posted"]. No toads were injured during the performance of that study either.

The last time we met Bansal was when his company Revita Life Sciences teamed up with Sergei Paylian, and the latter's start-up Bioquark, to chase ambulances, wave shrouds and recruit brain-dead bodies to farm them for organ transplants regenerate their obliterated cranial contents. Using an innovative combination of stem cells, frog-spawn squeezings, and dead-chicken-waving charlatanage. This was some serious mad-sciencing (with the same Ethics Approval from an International Committee of Bansal's sock-drawer).

One wonders how riddled with grifters a scheme has to be before the churnalists decide not to waste their valuable pixels. One asks rhetorical questions. One's sock-drawer echoes the questions.

Alas, science journamalists generally reported the venture as a long-shot but plausibly click-baity example of cutting-edge research. So the "Science Editor" at the Daily Torygraph dutifully pukefunneled Bansal's claim to have his first carcase, as of May 2016. In contrast, another account from November shows the trial going tits-up before it could even start, when Indian authorities noticed the absence of the permissions required for a drug trial, and expunged the entry from the Indian trial registry. But the people at Bioquark have not abandoned the dream, and they certified (of last week) that the study was "still recruiting participants"... though not beginning until July 2017.
What could go wrong?
MOVING RIGHT ALONG... readers will recall that in the Bansal / Bioquark 'ReAnima' collaboration, one central element was a procedure for re-programming human tissue cells into totipotent stem cells, patented by Sergei Paylian (Chief Scientific Officer at Bioquark). By cultivating them in close propinquity to frog eggs and running 6 million volts through both ('electroporation'), to allow the undifferentiated, endless-possibility nature of the latter to ooze out through the leaky cell membranes, and seep into the former. "Non-differentiation" being reified, like Phlogiston and Caloric, as a magical mixture of peptides. Paylian has coined the name "Bioquantine" for this transformative blend, keeping up the tradition of biology / particle-physics mash-up nomenclature. It was to be named after himself, but "Payline" conjures up less desirable mental images of the staff dashing to the bank and queuing up to cash their wage cheques.

Another component of the brain-regrowth project is an oral or injectible form of the magic peptide mixture, obtained from the frog eggs with a kitchen blender. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

That was not a passage I expected to be reading today, but at least it provides an excuse to use the coveted "Iron Chefmaster" tag.

Puzzlingly, the spawn still needs the electroporation prior to extraction. Indeed, in new additions to the protocol, Bioquantine production also requires EHF radio stimulation, and ELF irradiation, and the dulcet tones of the Greg Allman band. Does anyone else begin to suspect that the Bioquark crew are just making shit up as they go along?

Evidently, when orally consumed, the Bioquantine spreads its stem-cellulising goodness throughout the recipient's body, encouraging tissues to de-specialise and proliferate. Thereby curing cancer. And all other disease.

In this particular Bansal / Paylian collaboration there were nine patients, with six conditions, who had fallen into the hands of clinics spread around India, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Czechia. The relationships between the authors and these clinics are not specified, but we are assured that all frog-squeezin' consumption was approved by "an Institutional Review Board of each principal investigators clinical facility". Despite the title affected by this particular journal-shaped jizz-mop, no formal "clinical trials" took place. The punctuation is erratic and I can only surmise that BioAccent (the publisher) is suffering from a shortage of apostrophes and spaces, forcing authors to pay extra if they want their work released with a normal quota of word-breaks.

BioAccent, ah yes, those lovable scamps. They are widely admired in parasitical-publishing industry, for having "Title most reminiscent of a brand of washing powder", and for "Logo most reminiscent of 1950s book-cover space-station design". Also for the egregious quality of their spamming for contributions, which frequently attains a kind of pity-fuck pathos. There are many asses in their stable, many jizz-mops in their broom-closet, and Paylian is determined to publish in all of them, drawn perhaps by the appeal of a name conformant to the 'Bio***' template.
Himanshu Bansal is not credited with co-authorship for this one (he has his own outlets for publication). This time the spawn squeezin's -- Is there anything they can't do? -- they cure murine models of melanoma, and brain injury, and skin wrinkling... Bioquark are evidently targeting a broad spectrum of commercial activities, a range of "Threapeutic Applications".
What could go wrong?
But wait -- Kate Sheridan at Stat reports that Bioquark's CEO is touting plans to reanimate and regenerate the whole panoply of dead-chicken-waving, this time outsourcing the procurement of disposable carcasses to South American clinics yet to be determined [where Life is CHEAP!]. The Stat piece was mirrored in Sci.Am., and then was sucked into the maelstrom of click-bait, to be regurged in gently edited form across a plethora pleroma of churnalistic news-sites. The absence of details about this new aspirational venture reached such a rarefied state of vagueness that to call it "vaporware" conveys too great a sense of solidity, so dibs on my new coinage "plasmaware".

The original ReAnima package involved a "lasers-to-the-head" component, and a "median-nerve stimulation" part, shoe-horned into the protocol because a panoply of lasers and chiropractic electro-acupuncture were already part of Bansal's scammocopoeic practice. There is no reason why South American clinics should include this medley of random theatrical stylings. The CEO clung to them anyway, and defended their inclusion by pointing out the sheer absurdity of expecting any one cargo-cultic treatment to regrow a brain on its own (it may be that he had not thought through the South American intentions in such detail until providing Stat with the interview):
It’s our contention that there’s no single magic bullet for this, so to start with a single magic bullet makes no sense. Hence why we have to take a different approach,” said Ira Pastor, CEO of Bioquark.
In other news, it would be absurd to plant magic beans and expect to reach the moon by climbing the beanstalk, hence why we also have to eat some of the beans, and propel ourselves with magic farts.

Further perplexity arises from Bioquark's revival of the Bansal collaboration: recruitment at Anupam had been tagged as 'suspended' (after Indian authorities brought the hammer down ), but as of June 15 it switched back to 'active'.

One can only be sure that Paylian and Pastor are very, very keen to attract some fresh venture capital.
UPDATE: Just look at this fund-raising slideshow from 2012. It contains leveraging! At the time they offered "Major investor value inflection in 3 years", and proposed to start slowly -- regenerating a human kidney in situ -- before moving on to other organs. Perhaps their investor value has not yet inflected and there is a growing sense of desperation.
Bioquark, Inc., ( a biopharmaceutical company engaged in the development of proprietary biological drugs that can be simultaneously leveraged for both the regeneration and repair of human organs and tissues, CEO, Ira S. Pastor, presenting the Company’s overview at the Rodman and Renshaw Annual Global Investment Conference’s (14th Annual Healthcare Conference) on Thursday, September 11, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City
It also displays the murine melanoma and brain-damage results which Paylian would later squeeze out through BioAccent in 2016. Except those later versions of the diagrams are poorly-reproduced, with higher contrast. They also have different dates: "10 days" rather than "14 days".

[Above: 2012 version; below: 2016 version]
"7 days", "14 days", "21 days" morph into "10 days", "20 days", "30 days". It is the metric system gone mad!

[Above: 2012 version; below: 2016 version]

Just saying, dudes, that when you can't keep your story straight about which panels show cyclooxygenase expression (or down-regulation) and which ones show inducible nitric oxide synthase, it does not inspire confidence. Nor is it a good look when the same panel illustrates "control cells" in 2012 and "40 days" treatment in 2016.

Science blogger 'Abe' had his own doubts about the quality of the melanoma data.


Anonymous said...

Bravo Smut another brilliant read.

Yastreblyansky said...

I thought maybe plethoron. Turns out Joyce uses it in Finnegans Wake. The meaning is not obvious, but it seems to be political:

Scrape your souls. Commit no miracles. Postpone no bills. Respect the uniform. Hold the raabers for the kunning his plethoron. Let leash the dooves to the cooin her coynth. Hatenot havenots. Share the wealth and spoil the weal.

Smut Clyde said...

πλῆθος, "multitude", is a good New-Testamenty word.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I am not sure whose novel Himanshu Bansal escaped from.

Slumdoc Millionaire...

H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

My advice is stay away from whipped cream dispensers Smut.

Unknown said...

Eye is the most important organ of the human body and macular degeneration is the most common disease of this eye. The cure of this disease is impossible but control this disease is possible. Stem cell macular degeneration treatment is the best treatment that can control this disease.

Smut Clyde said...

Oh look, a feckin' comment-spamming gobshite, here to show us that "" must be real low-life grifters if they are paying cockwombles like him to advertise their scam!