Field of Science

Frightening quack autism treatment

One of the most bizarre and frightening "treatments" being promoted for autism is a drug, Lupron, which suppresses testosterone. Treatment with Lupron is also known as "chemical castration," and as you can imagine, it's a very serious and potentially harmful drug. But Mark and David Geier have decided - despite the complete lack of evidence for this - that excess testosterone causes autism, and that (therefore) Lupron will cure it.

The Geiers have been promoting this for years, but a recent article in the Chicago Tribune caught my attention. The title of the article is ' "Miracle drug" called junk science', and the Tribune deserves some credit for producing a reasonably skeptical article. "Lupron is the miracle drug," says Mark Geier, who doesn't hesitate to make outrageous claims. Mark Geier has an M.D., although he is not qualified in the specialties (such as pediatic neurology) that he would need to understand autism. His son, David Geier, has only an undergraduate degree in biology. Despite this, they are marketing their "Lupron protocol" around the country, happy to profit from this outrageous, harmful treatment. The Geiers have filed for a patent on their Lupron treatment, and they charge $12,000 to autistic patients for initial diagnostic tests, plus $5000-$6000 per month for the Lupron therapy.

The Tribute article was prompted by an appearance made by the Geiers in the Chicago area, where they were speaking at the Autism One conference. Here is a quote from the Geiers' abstract of their presentation:
"Finally, attendees will be presented newly published peer-reviewed clinical studies on over 200 patients diagnosed with autism showing that interventions designed to lower or significantly reduce the functionality of testosterone (and other androgens) were observed to significant improve clinical outcomes. The new information presented may provide an important alternate treatment course for many patients diagnosed with autism that are presently administered psychiatric medications. "
It sounds reasonable - but only if you don't know anything about the Geiers' history, or the profits they are making from their supposed "cure."

As evidence for their Lupron treatment, the Geiers often cite a study they published themselves several years ago, which experts have pointed out is deeply flawed. (Somehow I doubt that they ever point out that some of their published research was subsequently retracted by the journal Autoimmunity Reviews.) The Tribune reporter interviewed Dr. Paul Kaplowitz, chief of endocrinology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, who pointed out that the Geiers don't seem to understand that the blood tests they used in their study did not show elevated testosterone. Kaplowitz asked, "Is Dr. Geier just misinformed and he hasn't studied endocrinology, or is he trying to mislead?" Admittedly, it's hard to know in cases like these whether the quacks are truly ignorant, or whether they know they're peddling nonsense and just don't care.

Local Chicago-area doctor Mayer Eisenstein, who is making the Lupron protocol available and who supports the Geiers, was also interviewed by the Tribune. Eisenstein has his own pseudoscientific claims, and he too is a featured speaker at the Autism One conference. His speaker abstract states:
"if children do not get polio because of the polio vaccine but later die of a cancer caused by the SV40 virus received as a contaminant in the vaccine, the risk may outweigh the benefits."
Ouch. There's no evidence that the polio vaccine causes cancer - none whatsoever. That doesn't seem to be a concern for Eisenstein, whose bio on the Autism One site proudly claims that "he has formulated natural pharmaceuticals which can be used to treat many chronic medical conditions." These are modern snake-oil salesmen. Maybe Eisenstein is really so ignorant that he thinks the polio vaccine was a bad idea, but I think he just doesn't care.

By the way, if you want a guide to autism quackery, take a look at the Autism One conference site. But be warned: if you care about science, you might be in for a painful experience. I couldn't take it for long myself.

Also quoted in the Tribune was Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychopathology director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University, who said "The idea of using it [Lupron] with vulnerable children with autism, who do not have a life-threatening disease and pose no danger to anyone, without a careful trial to determine the unwanted side effects or indeed any benefits, fills me with horror." Well said.

What's hard for me to understand is how the medical profession can allow someone like Mark Geier to continue to practice medicine. One of the principals that all medical students are taught, supposedly, is "first, do no harm." Apparently, Mark Geier didn't learn that one.

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