I’ve made no secret of my opinion of a certain “alternative” cancer doctor named Stanislaw Burzynski, MD, PhD, of the infamous Burzynski Clinic. When last we left Burzynski, his
propagandist lapdog bootlicker documentary film maker Eric Merola was most unhappy with bloggers like me for having the temerity to tell it like it is when it comes to his film subject’s activities. Merola, you might recall, was responsible for Burzynski the Movie – Cancer Is a Serious Business, which I characterized as pure propaganda so incompetently made that it would make Leni Riefenstahl blush. After a couple of weeks, I change my characterization to say that it would have made Riefenstahl vomit in revulsion at its sheer incompetence. Be that as it may, I view Burzynski as highly unethical and pseudoscientific, an incompetent purveyor of “personalized medicine for dummies,” and someone who might at one time have been on to something but, like all cranks, just couldn’t let go when it became clear that his antineoplaston therapy was far more toxic than advertised and way less efficacious, if it’s even efficacious at all, which is highly doubtful.
One of the things that most disturbs me about Burzynski is how he takes advantage of patients who are at their most vulnerable and desperate. They are, after all, dying of cancer, usually cancer of the most horrible kinds: Brain tumors, pancreatic cancer, and the like. Over the last year or so, I’ve gone through multiple stories of patients who trusted Burzynski and ended up dying. In fairness, these patients would have died anyway. However, when they go to Burzynski they end up being charged tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for his antineoplaston therapy, which can’t help them. Many of the families of these patients hold fundraisers and try to generate publicity, the better to attract donors to give them the money that they have been led to believe is the only hope their loved ones have to survive. These patients uniformly all die, as is unfortunately expected given the nature of their disease, but there’s no evidence that Burzynski prolongs their lives or contributes to their quality. Worse, Burzynski extracts huge sums of money from their families for the “privilege” of being on one of his many dubious phase II clinical trials. He also has a phase III trial that the FDA foolishly approved two years ago, but hasn’t even opened to accrue a single patient.
Since last I wrote about Burzynski, I’ve become aware of yet another such patient, and it’s a truly sad tale. Meet Amelia Saunders, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year:
…she was then operated on, on Monday 6th February by Mr Peter Richards of the John Radcliffe Hospital, who has been a neurosurgeon for some 30 years – working on children for 16 of those years. He sees around 5 cases a year of this type and we understand around 40 kids a year in the UK are diagnosed. The operation had two goals – one was to biopsy the tumour, which produced 4 tissue samples during the operation. The second was to try and remove any tumour other than the samples – which they were unable to do.
After several days we were told that the samples showed a grade 2 diffuse astrocytoma, indicating that the core of the tumour was likely grade 3 or 4. We were then told that there was no chance of survival of a tumour of this type.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy were offered, however we were told that a median increased survival of some 4 weeks was achieved after this treatment. We declined with the reason that we would rather spend quality time with our daughter than spend more weeks in hospital for such a dismal outcome. Amelia came home on Friday 10th February. Amelia returned home unable to walk, she had speech problems, she was half paralysed and generally in a very bad state.
You know what’s coming next. In their desperation, Amelia’s parents heard about Stanislaw Burzynski, and, because they loved their daughter and were desperate to see her live, they were susceptible to his blandishments, particularly since their daughter had gotten somewhat better after her surgery. They somehow raised over £200,000 in 12 weeks in order to pay for Burzynski’s treatments (as of October 4, they reportedly have raised £249,776), as related in the blog and in this video:
Tonight is the update we’d always hoped we’d be able to write, but it has taken an enormous amount of faith and hard work to get this far – and there were many times we didn’t think this would happen.
Amelia’s tumour is dying, from the inside. We’ll be getting another opinion from here on this, but the scans do back this up. There are cysts forming inside the tumour where cancer cells would have been before.
For the moment, we seem to be winning our little battle.
We are trying our hardest not to get too excited yet. These cysts are forming inside the tumour but it isn’t shrinking – however this proves the treatment is working. Remember that Amelia has received no other treatment.
It pains me greatly to do this, because, no matter how I write this, it will be perceived as trying to take away the hope for Amelia’s survival that the Saunders family holds. Such is not my intent, by any stretch of the imagination. However, these “cysts” almost certainly represent areas of ischemia (low blood flow) leading to tissue death as the tumor outgrows its blood supply. This is a phenomenon commonly seen in advanced malignancy. I know this because tumor angiogenesis ia one of my areas of research interest. Basically, as I’ve described before, tumor cells are constrained in their growth to the diffusion of oxygen and nutrients in aqueous solution unless they can induce the ingrowth of blood vessels, a process called tumor angiogenesis. Tumors frequently can outgrow their blood supply, and when that happens, areas in the center of the tumor will die and liquify. Surgeons are very familiar with this phenomenon, as are radiologists. Tumors frequently, as they progress, consist of a relatively thin rim of viable, growing cells surrounding a central area of necrotic tissue. Sometimes, if you get into a tumor while trying to resect it, that necrotic cellular debris will squirt out like so much disgusting toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube. (We try to avoid this happening, as it means we didn’t get a good margin of normal tissue and can seed tumor cells.) In contrast, when tumors shrink due to chemotherapy or other treatment, they often shrink from the outside in (because that’s usually where the most rapidly proliferating cells are. True, they don’t always shrink that way and sometimes do have spread-out areas of necrosis, but that’s less characteristic.
Sadly, then, seeing “cysts” growing in Amelia’s tumor most likely says nothing one way or the other about whether or not it’s responding to Burzynski’s antineoplastons. That’s assuming that Burzynski’s interpretation of the scans is even correct, which I wouldn’t bet money on. Most likely, these “cysts” indicate that there is no therapeutic effect. I take no pleasure in saying this, but most likely this is true. If you don’t believe me, take a look at some images here, particularly the grade III astrocytoma of the 33 year old woman, which shows what’s known as a “mixed attenuation lesion,” which means it has both solid and cystic regions.
Having encountered Amelia makes me all the more disturbed to learn from that font of quackery defense, Patrick “Tim” Bolen that apparently Burzynski might have slithered away from justice yet again. The last time Burzynski slithered away, his hearing in front of the Texas Medical Board to strip him of his license was postponed by various legal maneuvers. Yesterday, Bolen gloated about the failure of “skeptics” and cited a letter from Burzynski’s attorney Rick Jaffe:
On November 19, 2012, judges of the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings dismissed the Texas Medical Board’s pending case against Dr. Burzynski. The investigation started by the board in 2008 involved Burzynski’s novel off-label use of combination gene targeted therapy. Early on, two medical board informal settlement panels found that the use of these combination drugs on the advanced cancer patients involved was within the standard of care. However, the Texas Medical Board refused to drop the case and instead filed a formal complaint against Dr. Burzynski alleging the same standard of care violations previously rejected by the board settlement panels. After two years of intense litigation, the case was set for trial in April 2012. However, a week before trial, the administrative law judges dismissed most of the charges against Dr. Burzynski which forced the Board to seek to adjourn the case to do some reevaluation. After the judges denied the Board’s attempt to reverse the previous partial dismissal of the case, the Board did more reevaluation and moved to dismiss the entire case. We didn’t oppose the motion and on November 19, 2012, the case was dismissed.
The cutting-edge, multi-agent gene targeted therapy devised by Dr. Burzynski which was at the heart of this proceeding is still being given at the clinic and is helping countless patients. The Burzynski Clinic thanks all of its supporters and wishes all a Happy Thanksgiving and thanks – Rick.
The “cutting edge, multi-agent gene targeted therapy devised by Dr. Burzynski” is, as I have described, is nothing more than “targeted therapy for dummies,” in which Burzynski picks a cocktail of highly expensive targeted therapies mixed with chemotherapy (yes, Burzynski gives a lot of chemotherapy) based on his simplistic interpretation of a commercial test of dubious predictive abilities. There’s nothing “cutting edge” about it, nor is there anything nontoxic about it, given that Burzynski mixes and matches targeted therapies in ways they were never intended to be mixed and in ways likely to enhance synergistic toxicity. Be that as it may, it is disturbing to learn that Burzynski appears to have gotten off when in my opinion he should have his license removed forthwith to protect patients. Here is a copy of the order. It’s pretty bare bones, and it would be nice to see exactly what the motion to dismiss said. In fact, if there’s anyone out there with a legal background who can look into this and explain it to me, I’d be grateful.
As of now, all I can tell is that, despite extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars from patients like Amelia and being slapped down by the FDA yet again, it looks as though Stanislaw Burzynski is going to slither away from justice again.