A second red flag was raised by the official email address of the Principal Investigator (PI), Curt Hendrix - rather than a university or a company, his address is a personal email account. Very strange. So what is the study going to do? From the NIH website, we find that
The overall goal ... is to formulate and conduct initial feasibility tests of a medical food cocktail composed of standardized herbal extracts, vitamins, and minerals that are demonstrated in the basic science and clinical medical literature to impact the biochemical and pathophysiological processes involved in Alzheimer's Disease. The first Specific Aim will be to formulate and standardize the cocktail, which will include extracts of tumeric, green tea, black pepper and vitamins and other nutritive ingredients.Once they formulate this cocktail, they'll test it on mice. What? Tumeric, green tea, black pepper, and vitamins will cure Alzheimer's? That would be great if it were true, but there's no evidence to support it. (And if it were true, we'd have sub-populations of humans that had very low Alzheimer's rates, since these are common components of many people's diets.)
So who is the company that NCCAM has given this award to? It's Akeso Health Sciences, LLC, in Westlake Village, California. I've never heard of them, so I did some quick checking. It only took a few minutes to find that Akeso is another name (or a front) for a company called Migrelief that sells vitamin supplements: http://www.migrelief.com. ("Migraine relief," get it?) They used to call themselves MigraHealth, and they sell vitamin supplements that they claim help cure migraines.
Akeso Health Sciences is also quoted in a testimonial on a website called The SBIR Coach, a company that helps other companies win NIH grants. Their motto - prominently posted at the top of their website - is "We know this game." That's right, they teach companies how to play the "game" and win small business grants (called SBIRs) from the federal government. So we have one scammer (SBIR Coach) helping out another (Migrelief, also known as Akeso Health Sciences) to get funding from NIH.
How can a purveyor of vitamins for migraines re-brand themselves and get NIH money? That's what happened here: Migrelief used their alter ego, Akeso Health Sciences (sounds like they do science, right?) and wrote a proposal to NCCAM. Because NCCAM has far lower standards than the rest of NIH, and because their mission includes the promotion of pseudoscience, they funded this ridiculous proposal. What a colossal waste of funds. And I can imagine that Migrelief will soon be selling their supplements to Alzheimer's patients, offering them false hope of a cure so they can make a fast buck.
NCCAM should be closed down. Any scientific proposal worthy of funding should have to go through one of the legitimate NIH institutes. And while we're at it, we should shut down the SBIR program too; that'll have to be the subject of a future blog.