Kimball Atwood and colleagues published an article in May 2008 (freely available in PubMed) that looked at this study, called TACT (Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy), and wrote:
"We conclude that the TACT is unethical, dangerous, pointless, and wasteful. It should be abandoned."Wow. It doesn't get much more blunt than this. Nonetheless, the study had already gone on for years, and it was another 4 months (until now) before NIH pulled the plug.
Chelation therapy involves injections of a powerful drug, disodium EDTA, into patients. Proponents claim - with little or no evidence - that disodium EDTA will bind to arterial plaques and help flush them away. Chelation therapy has also been proposed - and used - on autistic children, despite evidence that it carries great risks and despite no evidence that it works.
The just-halted study involves some 1500 patients. The US government approved the study, according to AP reports, because some heart patients were trying chelation therapy anyway, and the study would provide evidence of whether it worked or not. (Note that this is the same argument that NIH recently used when it announced it would study chelation therapy for autistic children.) The argument is bogus. It is a classic example of a logical fallacy, which could be re-stated in this case as "lots of people believe this, so it must be true."
There are (were) multiple problems with this study. The Atwood article states them very bluntly:
We present evidence that chelationists and their organization, the American College for Advancement in Medicine, used political connections to pressure the NIH to fund the TACT. The TACT protocols justified the trial by misrepresenting case series and by ignoring evidence of risks. The trial employs nearly 100 unfit co-investigators. It conflates disodium EDTA and another, somewhat safer drug. It lacks precautions necessary to minimize risks.Astonishing. And yet, unbelievably, the group of chelation doctors (who should more accurately be called quacks and scam artists), known by the deceptive name American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), are insisting that the allegations of impropriety are "political" and that the trial should resume as soon as these allegations can be dismissed. On ACAM's own website, their president, Jeanne Drisko, says "We call for a swift end to the moratorium and a resumption of the trial."
These chelation practitioners (I can't call them doctors) are deceiving their patients and making money off them by offering harmful therapies. This is, frankly, despicable.
Finally, I have to shine the spotlight of shame on the study's Principal Investigator, Gervasio Lamas of Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. If you know anyone in Miami who needs a cardiologist, stay away from this doctor! Back in 2001, he said of chelation therapy, "It's pretty different - it's cool." I want a doctor who chooses therapies because they work, not because he thinks they're cool.
And finally, which part of NIH funded this study? NCCAM, of course. See my earlier posts on that. This is yet another example of why NCCAM should be shut down.