February 24, 2024

Chinese doctor thumbs nose at Western sceptics

The reputation of a Beijing doctor who uses cells from aborted foetuses to treat patients with spinal cord injuries and ALS is growing — enough for him to be profiled in the leading journal Nature. Dr Hongyun Huang, of Chaoyang Hospital, has used olfactory ensheathing cells to treat about 600 patients with neurological difficulties since 2001 — even though Western journals have refused to publish his findings.

Dr Huang’s patients have not been deterred by his impatience with conventional trials, controls and data analysis. Although the patients seldom make dramatic recoveries, he claims that many of them have reported improved quality of life. “There are more animal and mouse studies than the world can take,” says one of his Western patients. “We’re ready for the real thing.”

However, most of Dr Huang’s results are anecdotal — videotapes and patient testimonials — and Western journals want careful quantification of the results. They also have reservations about the safety of the procedures. How the injected cells work is not well understood and there could be serious side effects. Dr Huang has given up trying to convince them. “It’s their loss. If they believed my results, it could dramatically change clinical practice,” he told Nature.