Of all the bizarre forms of antivaccine autism quackery, one of the strangest has to be Mark and David Geier’s “Lupron protocol.” I’ve written about it many times, dating back to 2006 and, more recently, when the Chicago Tribune provided the first coverage I’m aware of of the Geiers’ quackery in a major newspaper, thanks to Trine Tsouderos. If you want the details, feel free to click on the links, but I’ll boil it down for purposes of this post.
Basically, the father-and-son team of autism woo-meisters who operate out of the basement of the father’s Silver Spring, MD house, Mark and David Geier, the latter of whom is not even a physicians, began treating autistic children with what is basically chemical castration. Specifically, they use a powerful drug (Lupron) that shuts down sex hormone production in children, primarily testoserone. The rationale that they use is, quite simply, incredible too. Basically, according to the Geiers, mercury binds to testosterone and forms “sheets” in the brain, leading to a complex that can’t pass the blood-brain barrier and keeps mercury in the body. By shutting down testosterone production, the Geiers claim, these sheets are prevented from forming, and the mercury is made more easily available to chelating agents. Although Lupron has several uses in adults (for example, to treat prostate cancer and, more unncommonly, breast cancer and to shut down ovarian function in order to allow complete control of ovulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization), the use of Lupron in children is limited to pretty much only one indication: Precocious puberty. So, not surprisingly, somehow the Geiers grafted a diagnosis of precocious puberty onto their idea (I refuse to dignify it by calling it even a hypothesis).
When the Trib revealed the depths of quackery being plumbed by the Geiers with their “Lupron protocol,” I thought they were done, as in “stick a fork in ‘em” done. Unfortunately, in the world of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, in which the mercury from vaccines (which is no longer in vaccines other than in tiny trace amounts) supposedly causes autism, apparently no idea is too bizarre or so unanchored in even the most rudimentary science to be so easily killed. Remember, the Geiers based their “testosterone sheet” delusion on an old paper in which testosterone could bind mercury when precipitated out of a high temperature benzene solvent. You’ve got to hand it to the Geiers, though. They never let a little thing like extreme scientific implausibility stop them. Or bad publicity, as in stories in the Tribune.
In fact, the Geiers even metastasize, like cancer:
A Maryland medical group has started treating autistic children in South Florida with shots of a drug used for chemical castration, a therapy widely panned by mainstream experts.
The group gives children the cancer drug Lupron to stop their bodies from making testosterone, saying the drug helps expel toxic mercury and quells aggressive or sexually explicit behavior by kids with excessive levels of the male hormone.
A Boca Raton mother who just put her 18-year-old son on the drug said it seems to help.
But numerous physicians, researchers and therapists insist there’s no proof mercury causes autism, that Lupron removes mercury or that autistic kids have excessive testosterone. What’s more, the drug carries a risk of bone damage, stunted growth and heart trouble, and can render children impotent.
Basically, what happened is that Mark and David Geier decided to franchise their autism pseduoscience earlier this year. The Geiers’ chain of clinics are known as ASD Centers, LLC, and they have locations in Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, and three locations in Maryland, the Geiers’ home turf. Here, parents of autistic children can subject their children to “services” as pseudoscientific and varied as:
- Genetic Markers (DNA Fragile X Syndrome, Blood Chromosome, Chromosome Microarrays, DNA Rett Syndrome, Angelman/Prader Willi Syndrome)
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction (Carnitine, Lactic Acid, Ammonia, Hand Muscle Testing)
- Hormone Imbalances (Total Testosterone, Free Testosterone, DHEA, DHEA-S, Androstenedione, Dihydrotestosterone, Total Estrogens, Estrone, Estradiol, ACTH, Aldosterone, Prolactin, FSH, LH)
- Oxidative Stress/Inflammation (Neopterin, Lipid Peroxides)
- Detoxification Pathways (Glutathione, Cystathionine, Homocysteine, Methionine)
- Immune System Function (Immune Deficiency Profile, HLA-Testing, Immune Complexes, Food Allergies, Celiac’s Disease)
- Heavy Metals (Porphyrins, Blood Metals, Urinary Metals)
- Neurological Dysfunction (Brain MRI scans, Brain SPECT scans)
- General Health Status (Comphrensive Metabolic Panel)
You know, the thought of acolytes of Mark and David Geier doing chromosome microarrays and tests for genetic markers is almost as scary as their subjecting autistic children to chemical castration in order to “treat” their autism. What new abuses of science could they come up with administering powerful tests whose interpretation is not always straightforward? The mind boggles. Or it should boggle. Unfortunately, there are credulous parents who are falling for the claims of the Geiers. Utterly horrifying are some of their attitudes. For example, meet Teresa Badillo, a truly scary woman:
Teresa Badillo was at the meeting. Her family has searched in vain for a way to help their autistic son, Marco, 18. Badillo said he has little speech or interaction with others, but is doing OK in high school. Lately, though, Marco has grown more aggressive, physical and rebellious.
“We were basically under seige in this house,” Badillo said. “This kind of behavior is more scary at 18 [than] at 3. I had choices to make. If you see there is another option out there that can help your child, most parents are going to choose that option.”
Also, Marco had discovered sex and sometimes touched himself inappropriately in public, a common problem among those with autism.
“The kids don’t understand. They have impulses. It’s what happens when you have high testosterone,” Badillo said.
No, that’s the sort of thing that can happen when a boy has stone cold normal testosterone levels but no impulse control–like boys with neurodevelopmental disabilities, not just autism. It doesn’t take high testosterone levels to provoke teenage boys to masturbate or to become aggressive. In fact, boys with all sorts of mental disabilities, such as mental retardation and others, have the same sorts of behavioral problems as they mature. This is not a problem unique to autism, nor does it necessitate abuses like this:
The family put Marco on Lupron about six weeks ago. He gets two injections a month at a dosage larger than used on adult cancer patients, plus a small daily shot.
“The therapy immediately stopped the aggression,” Badillo said. “This is not castrating a kid. It’s just lowering the [testosterone] levels enough to normal range so the kid is not aggressive.”
She said Geier plans to continue the Lupron for several months to see if it helps Marco’s other autistic behavior. She said she knows the drug has risks but believes Lupron critics do not fully grasp the hard realities of life with an autistic child.
“The therapy immediately stopped the aggression”? I daresay it probably did, almost certainly because it shut down the boy’s testosterone levels to castrate levels. The Geiers’ acolytes are administering doses beyond what is given in cancer patients to shut down women’s ovarian function or men’s testicular function, for cryin’ out loud! And Badillo justifies it because it isn’t “castrating” her kid. Bullshit. What she’s doing may not involve the surgical removal of Marco’s testes, but for all intents and purposes it is achieving the same end as castrating him, namely the shutting down of testosterone production. Let me put it this way. Before drugs like Lupron were available, the way urologists treated metastatic protate cancer was surgical castration. The reason is that the growth of most prostate cancer is driven by testosterone. True, metastatic prostate cancer almost inevitably develops the ability to grow without testosterone. In the meantime, shutting down testosterone was (and is) and excellent treatment for metastatic prostate cancer. Urologists stopped doing that because Lupron shut down testosterone production as effectively as surgical castration but didn’t require surgery.
Badillo is treating her son with doses of Lupron that, according to the news story above, exceed the dose of Lupron used in prostate cancer. In fact, it sounds as though she’s using both the Lupron depot injection, which provides slow release Lupron and is usually administered once a month or less and she’s giving him daily Lupron injections. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any other reaction other than being utterly appalled. Truly, abuse of autistic children in the name of “curing” them is the one quackery that won’t die. If there were a hell, there’d be a special place reserved there for people who take advantage of the desperation of a mother like Badillo, who is clearly having a great deal of difficulty controlling the aggressive behavior of her son. She’s obviously become desperate enough to try anything, even chemical castration, in a vain attempt to “cure” her son–or even just control him.
And there are, unfortunately, always people are there to supply it to parents like her–for a price, of course.