A journal paper claiming to show the success of a homeopathic treatment for cancer has been withdrawn by the publishers following a series of awkward discoveries – including the arrest of its two lead authors.
The paper, published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, was retracted in late February after readers voiced concerns and a formal investigation flagged multiple ethical problems.
The subject of the paper was “psorinum therapy” and its use in treating stomach, gall bladder, pancreatic and liver cancers. Psorinum is a peculiar favourite of homeopaths, described as a substance “prepared from the fluid of blisters from scabies infested skin”.
The website Homeopathy Plus says that people who need psorinum “usually lack vitality and are prone to mental disturbances”. The site recommends its use in treating a range of skin conditions, along with a few outliers such as ulcers and insomnia – but notably not cancer.
The lead authors of the retracted paper, father and son team Aradeep and Ashim Chatterjee, clearly thought differently. In 2001, the pair set up a trial of cancer patients, administering the scabies-fluid, along with other homeopathic substances, and a complete absence of conventional cancer meds.
This situation alone prompted readers to raise ethical questions, as did the fact that the trial did not include control or placebo inclusions. According to the science monitoring site RetractionWatch, however, matters became considerably more complicated when journal publishers Hindawi launched a formal investigation.
First up, the authors claimed ethics clearance for their study was granted by a review board overseeing the Critical Cancer Management Research Centre and Clinic in Kolkata, India. This raised two problems. First, the Chatterjees turned out to own the clinic in question. Second, the ethics approval was granted in 2001 – which is weird, because the clinic didn’t open its doors until 2008.
Attempting to resolve these apparent inconsistencies, Hindawi sought to contact the lead authors. They were told Aradeep Chatterjee had been arrested for practicing medicine without the proper qualifications in June 2017. His father was reported to have also been arrested, two months later.
Three of four additional authors said they did not agree with the paper’s conclusions, and the fourth did not respond.
After Hindawi retracted the paper, RetractionWatch contacted the publishers of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, in which the Chatterjees have also been published. The editors are investigating.
Sadly, despite an investigation finding that the Chatterjees’ “research” contained no credible evidence, several homeopathy outlets continue to encourage cancer patients to use psorinum to treat the disease.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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