Respectful Insolence

Eggplant mania for cancer

As I’ve said before many times, herbal or plant-based medicines are about the only kind of “alternative” medicine that has significant prior scientific plausibility based on what we know about science. That’s because plants often contain biologically active molecules; i.e., they often contain drugs. Of course, the problem with plant-based medicines is that they are, in essence, highly contaminated drugs, the predictability of whose responses is variable because the amount of active ingredient can vary widely.

There’s also a problem when claims for a plant-based compound become grandiose. It immediately makes me suspicious, even when there might be some biological plausibility that some compound with derived from a plant might have anticancer properties, when I see claims of “cancer cures” or the extensive use of testimonial evidence. Recently, I became aware of just such a “cancer cure” derived from, of all things, eggplant. The advertising for a cream based on this comound has it all: Testimonials, claims of near 100% efficacy in curing certain types of cancer, and claims of near miraculous efficacy. In essence, a man named Dr. Bill E. Cham takes a plant-based “treatment” and claims that it can not only cure skin cancer but regenerate and rejuvenate. In brief, he takes something that might have some efficacy and makes unbelievable claims for it.

In essence, Dr. Cham’s claim is that eggplants cure skin cancer? Naturally, I know it’s true because I saw it on the Internet, and I’ve even seen some credulous reporting on it:

And this is what Dr. Bill Cham says on his website about his “Eggplant Cancer Cure”:

Perfection or near-perfection is rare in any area of medicine. Dr. Bill Cham has achieved it in the treatment of two common cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

And:

Even better, for those who want to know “how does it work”, this book tells us exactly how. The explanation is simple, easy to understand, and yet scientifically elegant, a molecular ballet. Here’s the explanation in one line of simple English: Dr. Cham has found substances which can penetrate and kill skin cancer cells but can’t penetrate normal skin cells, so normal skin cells are untouched and unhurt while the skin cancer cells die! (Those who want the full technical explanation will find it–again, in simple English–in the following pages.)

What you’re about to read and the pictures you’re about to see are absolutely breath-taking. You’ll read about and see relatively small squamous and basal cell cancers disappearing in just 12 to 16 weeks. You’ll see large, neglected cancers as large as 2 by 3 inches first get bigger as cancer cells “beneath the surface” die, and then reverse course and slowly heal over the next few months. Surgical treatment of such large skin cancers is almost always disfiguring, and sometimes not correctable with plastic surgery. Dr. Cham’s treatment enables healing of even the largest cancers with minimal if any disfigurement.

“Molecular ballet?”? Wow, I really like that term. I think I’ll steal it sometime for a grant application to describe my favorite molecular signaling cascade. Thanks, Dr. Cham! But can this “eggplant cure” actually do what Dr. Cham claims it can? In the video, he claims it’s been tested in “randomized trials” in the U.K.; so I figured that I could find the results of those randomized trials by searching PubMed. Silly me. A search of “eggplant” and “skin cancer” revealed…two referencs, neither of which are by Dr. Cham and neither of which show an eggplant extract curing cancer. Meanwhile a search on Dr. Cham’s name revealed three publications, one of which looked like a review article. Only one of them showed any sort of clinical study suggesting that a cream formulation containing high concentrations (10%) of a standard mixture of solasodine glycosides (BEC) might be effective in treating non-melanoma skin cancers. The problem with the study, however, is that it did not appear to be randomized or to have matched its tumors for size and depth very well.

Somehow, though, Dr. Cham claims that he’s done Phase I, Phase II, Phase III, and even Phase IV (post-marketing) trials. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily expect phase IV trials to be published; postmarketing surveys often remain unpulished. However, I would expect to see the phase III trial supporting his “Curaderm” to have been published. Oddly enough, many of the studies listed on Dr. Cham’s website don’t appear to be even particularly relevant to the question of whether his cream cures skin cancer. Particularly suspicious are a couple of articles that could have come straight from Kevin Trudeau, The skin cancer cure so effective, it’s being kept secret and The skin cancer cure nobody wants you to know about.

Now we’re talking crankery!

The odd thing is that the compounds isolated by Dr. Cham appear promising. Basal cell carcinoma, for example, is a type of cancer that is rarely fatal and rarely metastasizes. However, it can grow to large sizes and become disfiguring if neglected. Currently, surgery is indeed the only treatment of basal cell carcinoma. Simple surgical excision is curative (as they say, nothing heals like surgical steel). Consequently, a topical agent that caused basal cell carcinoma to regress would be very useful to dermatologists and skin cancer surgeons. I’m less enthusiastic about using such compounds to treat squamous cell carcinoma, because these tumors can invade and metastasize. Their treatment can require lymph node dissection and radiation. Treating such tumors is often more than just a matter of simple surgical excision. At least Dr. Cham doesn’t claim that his Curaderm can treat melanoma. That would be truly irresponsible.

So how, if it works, does Curaderm supposedly work? That’s where I see more red flags going up. There’s a long and seemingly plausible explanation in his book. There’s a listing of clinical trials, but none of them appear to have been published, at least not by Dr. Cham. Then, of course, there’s the conspiracy-mongering by Dr. Cham himself:

These dermatologists put pressure on the government health regulators who then decided to put Curaderm BEC5 as a prescription only drug.  Because of this no public awareness of Curaderm BEC5 was allowed and of course these dermatologists did not support Curaderm BEC5.  Consequently, I attempted to reason with the Health Authorities that Curaderm BEC5 should be widely available to the public.  This fell on deaf ears. The health regulators reasoning was the glycoalkaloids BEC were toxic because they were extracted from the Devil’s Apple plant.

I then examined a whole host of solanum plant species and found that the exact replica of BEC was present in the eggplant.  Most importantly the amount of BEC in one tube of Curaderm BEC5 is the equivalent to approximately 5g of eggplant (approximately 1 table spoon).  So how can the BEC in Curaderm BEC5 be considered toxic, especially after we had done full toxicological studies with the BEC where it was shown that it was completely safe at the concentrations found in Curaderm BEC5.  With this new information in hand I again approached the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to have Curaderm BEC5 back as an OTC (over the counter) item.  The TGA said they would get back to me.  I have been waiting for over 8 years but they have not responded to my request. I finally gave up on them and sought and obtained registration of Curaderm BEC5 as an OTC in the Republic of Vanuatu.

He then says he would love it if the FDA would approve his drug, apparently clueless that the FDA doesn’t come looking for drugs to approve. The inventors have to submit their treatment to the FDA for approval. Indeed, Dr. Cham has flirted with, if not outright crossed, the border from being a physician-scientist into becoming a crank. After all, he claims to have done all these studies on the BEC compound in extensive clinical trials, but they do not appear to be published in the peer-reviewed medical literature. Rather, they’re only discussed in his books, which, of course, you have to buy. Oddly enough, just this year, another group did actually do a clinical trial using a related compound and reported significant efficacy.

It’s rather depressing to see Dr. Cham choose to rely on testimonials to sell his cream and to use books to report his “research” rather than submitting it to peer-reviewed journals for publication. It’s also depressing to see him engage in that favorite refuge of the crank, the conspiracy theory in which dark forces (in this case, dermatologists) don’t want you to know about his miraculous treatment. It’s really a shame, because for a tumor like basal cell carcinoma, an effective topical cream would be very useful. But there’s money to be made. Why let adherence to science get in the way of making that money?

Comments

  1. #1 I am so wise
    November 7, 2008

    This is little more than a postmodern Thomsonian system. Is it too much to ask for a little originality when it comes to idiocy? Seriously, I’d be less appalled by stupidity if it contains a novel element or two.

    On a serious note, this is what happens when children stop (assuming they ever did) learning history.

  2. #2 Nomen Nescio
    November 7, 2008

    If you were looking for a British trial using eggplants, you’d be looking for a long time.

    I hope you also searched for British trial using aubergines.

    It’s one of those small differences in language that sometimes lead to an utter lack of comprehension when people from the UK and the USA speak to each other.

    The following three Wikipedia articles are helpful:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_words_having_different_meanings_in_American_and_British_English

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_words_not_widely_used_in_the_United_States

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_words_not_widely_used_in_the_United_Kingdom

    Nomen Nescio

  3. #3 The Perky Skeptic
    November 7, 2008

    The only thing Dr. Cham has convinced me of is that I am TOTALLY making baigan bharta this weekend!!! :D

    Mmmmm, eggplant.

  4. #4 khan
    November 7, 2008

    Ratatouille.

  5. #5 D. C. Sessions
    November 7, 2008

    Baba ghanoush.

  6. #6 Rogue Epidemiologist
    November 7, 2008

    Anti-carcinoma parmagiana sammich? WANT!

  7. #7 Joe
    November 7, 2008

    What does one do when eggplant is out of season?

    My father had “Irish skin.” Removal of the cancers was quick (minutes), definitive and inexpensive (as medical costs go in the USA). Eggplant has a high standard to match.

    Ratatouille. Posted by: khan | November 7, 2008 12:50 PM

    If you know your “Blackadder,” that is merely rat sauteed in mud. Similarly, rat au vin is sauteed rat that was run-over by a lorry.

  8. #8 notmercury
    November 7, 2008

    Of course this will work. Eggplants don’t get cancer. Well, maybe the occasional Melanganoma.

  9. #9 notedscholar
    November 7, 2008

    Wow. The craziest thing about quack science is when you imagine if it really WAS true! Like if egg plant really could cure cancer, just IMAGINE the publicity it would get. There would be no more cancer! And public outrage if there was.

  10. #10 Michele
    November 8, 2008

    Eggplant yuck!!!!!!!!

  11. #11 Dangerous Bacon
    November 8, 2008

    If Dr. Cham (rhymes with sham?) is correct that only 5 grams of eggplant contains as much solasadine glycosides as an entire tube of his Curaderm, why can’t you just rub a little eggplant puree on your skin tumor a couple times a day? You could do an end-around on the Therapeutic Goods people _and_ the evil dermatologists, not to mention Dr. Cham (if he hasn’t suggested this himself, it’s because he doesn’t want you to know).

    “What does one do when eggplant is out of season?”

    You can usually find eggplant anytime at your local supermarket. And if not, just be patient, at least with a basal cell carcinoma (they’re slow movers).

    Another thought: has anyone tested eggplant as a skin cancer rememdy on guinea pigs? They’re often said to resemble an eggplant with feet, so the logic is inescapable.

  12. #12 The Perky Skeptic
    November 8, 2008

    BTW, anyone get tickets to that molecular ballet?

  13. #13 storkdok
    November 8, 2008

    Sounds like a lovely evening…eggplant moussaka followed by the molecular ballet!

  14. #14 DLC
    November 9, 2008

    mmmm… Eggplant Parmesan and a side order of basal cell carcinoma! Cellular Ballet ? does that mean I have to wear a tutu while undergoing treatment ?

  15. #15 Richard Eis
    November 10, 2008

    - I’d be less appalled by stupidity if it contains a novel element or two. -

    If it was novel and interesting, it probably wouldn’t be stupid though…however the last thing you want is clever stupid people.

  16. #16 Metro
    November 10, 2008

    You’d think that Dr. Cham would have brought the Eggplant Marketing Board on to help him get the word out, eh?

  17. #17 DrFrank
    November 10, 2008

    Gahh, and here’s the bit that always makes me want to severely beat the quacks around the head.

    You’ll see large, neglected cancers as large as 2 by 3 inches first get bigger as cancer cells “beneath the surface” die, and then reverse course and slowly heal over the next few months.

    So, if your malignant tumour gets bigger, it’s all peachy dandy. Don’t bother going to tell one of those hoity-toity doctors, it’s all just part of the healing process. On the offchance you happen to die of your cancer after this point, it’s purely your own fault for not thinking positively enough.

    Bastards bastards bastards!

  18. #18 SES
    November 10, 2008

    I’m surprised he doesn’t make a claim for melanoma, too. After all, eggplant is called “melanzane” in Italian and that’s no coincidence, right?

  19. #19 Paul Murray
    November 10, 2008

    Hmm – so the eggplant “looks promising”, eh? That leaves the good doctor with two options:

    a – clinical trails, years of waiting, millions of bucks – IOW: sell the rights to someone else, maybe make one cent in the dollar

    b – hey! it’s eggplant! I can sell this stuff *right now*, legally, keep the money … and it might even help a few people.

    Sigh. Everyone take a deap breath and repeat after me: “the free market is the most efficient means of getting goods to consumers”, then stick your head back in the libertarian sand.

  20. #20 Nay Esse
    November 10, 2008

    You want more depressing news about cancer (like cancer is not depressing enough)? Wait until this hits the mainstream audience: trailer:http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/thebeautifultruth/

    It’s about a “miracle” diet that can cure cancer. The trailer makes doctors sound like killers. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point. I’m sure they have eggplant somewhere in that miracle…

  21. #21 Gentle Miant
    January 3, 2009

    “Consequently, a topical agent that caused basal cell carcinoma to regress would be very useful to dermatologists and skin cancer surgeons.” Mmmmm. Nice attitude. It’s not at all important how useful it be to the “patients” (victims?), Just so it helps “dermatologists and … surgeons”

    Although nearly all “technical” fields are primarily made up of elitists, there is no field that takes away individual rights more
    than medicine. And then there are guys like you that don’t seem to realize the effort (money) that “Big Pharm” puts into influencing you. Of course, you probably believe that you are too “sophisticated” to be influenced. The psychologists BP hires count on that. Oh, but wait, you are probably such an idealist that you believe all the guys in BP as WELL as your “fellows” are just as idealistic!

    I could tell you some facts that’d probably make your hair curl.

  22. #22 Chris
    January 3, 2009

    Too little, too late:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/09/the_pharma_shill_gambit_1.php

    Gentle Miant said “And then there are guys like you that don’t seem to realize the effort (money) that “Big Pharm” puts into influencing you.”

    Have you met this blog’s mascot?
    See: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/medicine/eneman/

    Gentle Miant (whose website is still under construction) continued “I could tell you some facts that’d probably make your hair curl.”

    Do tell! Please!

  23. #23 Orac
    January 4, 2009

    Geez, these are some annoyingly predictable and uncreative trolls, aren’t they, Chris?

    As for “elitists,” that’s another fun one. Personally, if someone’s going to operate on me, I want him or her to be elite. I want him or her to be the best.

  24. #24 Gentle Miant
    January 4, 2009

    Thx for the intro, Chris. PeterB might be a little short on facts, but you hafta givem E for effort. :-) So are you saying that BP does NOT hire psychologists to help sell products? You mean most MDs swallowed how great all these recalled products were just because they were so darned naive??

    Hi Orac,
    Sorry, I should’ve defined my terms. I meant to distinguish “elitists” from “the elite”. For instance: an elitist MD might tell a patient, when asked about an “idiopathic” disease: “We don’t know”, whereas an elite (or at least objective) MD might reply: “I don’t know”. Or the buttheads I’ve seen on “the floor” in a (tech support) call center laughing at and talking about what “idiots” callers such as scientists, MDs, etc. were. In short AHs that put themselves above the rest of the human race on the basis of some bit of knowledge they have that the populace generally does not, no matter how incomplete that knowledge.

    I’m a little disappointed in your response. I come on with a handle that just BEGS for flames, and all you come up with is “troll”?? You didn’t even respond to my sarcasm regarding the quote. If you’re going to be a flamer, you’re going to have to WORK on it! :-)

  25. #25 Chris
    January 4, 2009

    You were identified as a troll because you do not make much sense, not even attempting to address the substance of what was written in the three month old posting on cancer quackery. Using, of course the old tired “Big Pharm” gambit.

    Sarcasm? There was sarcasm?

  26. #26 Chris
    January 5, 2009

    Wait, I know, you grow eggplant! Perhaps you sell the eggplants to create this cream for the non-fatal form of skin cancer.

    Are you part of Big Farma?

    (see it works both ways)

  27. #27 Gentle Miant
    January 5, 2009

    “works both ways” Right, Chris/Orac. I’m sure you’re ignorant enough to believe that there’s as much money in natural remedies as in patentable ones. (snort)

    Actually I didn’t see anything sufficiently wrong with “Eggplant mania for cancer” to make an easy case against. I actually thought I might find some intelligence here. You did claim to be a “surgeon/scientist”. However, since my several posts I’ve noticed a distinct disinclination to be analytical or even careful of facts. Should I be able to expect you to be capable of counting all the way up to two?: “what was written in the three month old posting on cancer quackery (Orac, 2009).”

    My initial post concerning a subordination of concern for patients to that of MDs was certainly clear enough to anyone with reasonable reading comprehension skills, and pretense of even greater stupidity than you possess is a poor cover for it.

    I do have some comments that I believe would be of interest to a scientist, but you should know that merely being schooled in science does not make you a scientist, so it seems hardly worth the effort.

    So long, Chris/Orac (if you can keep up with which one you are).

  28. #28 Rogue Epidemiologist
    January 5, 2009

    Chris != Orac

    however…

    Gentle Miant = dumbass.

  29. #29 Chris
    January 5, 2009

    Oh, wow! This troll thinks I am Orac. I am so flattered. I am “just” a stay at home mom with some familiarity of the quackery that surrounds having a child with health issues. (oh, and “natural remedies” are not cheap, especially the silly cranial sacral stuff at $100 per homeopathic head massage!)

    Thanks Gentle Miant. I hope your eggplant crop is good next season.

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