Thursday, April 2, 2015

#1333: Stephen B. Ayre

Few things attracks quackery like cancer, and insulin potentiation therapy is one of the dumbest, most dangerous “alternative” cancer therapies available. Though there is a number of practitioners out there, the leading proponent of IPT is perhaps Stephen B. Ayre, M.D. The basic idea is apparently that cancer cells like sugar and that insulin increases drug uptake. Using IPT therefore allows the patient to use less chemotherapy – which is unsupported by anything resembling evidence, but lack of evidence is no obstacle to certain altmed proponents. Instead they will administer a high dose of insulin, enough to drive the patient’s blood sugar down, at which point the patient is given chemotherapy (at subtherapeutic doses, since insulin allegedly decreases the amount of chemotherapy needed.) Finally, the patient is given glucose to bring the patient back from the hypoglycemia caused by the insulin. Unfortunately, people with no background in medicine will really often have no reason to think that IPT is insane idiocy (and dangerous); which surely helps the bullshit continuing to exist.

Ayre’s homepage admits that “while individual anecdotal case reports over forty years suggest that this treatment may be effective,” there is no evidence that the treatment has any beneficial effects whatsoever (nevertheless, he continues to promote it, which is exactly the kind of thing that earns him a place here). Chris Duffield at the website furthermore discusses 19 “mechanisms proposed for how IPT works,” though even he is forced to admit that “no on knows really for sure.” Indeed. He also admits that “Many doctors and patients are looking for statistics, and we simply have to tell people that we do not have them. If they insist on having statistics, IPT is not yet for them. However, a lot of people have heard about IPT from friends, or have talked with doctors who have had excellent results with IPT. For some people, the IPT concept makes sense, and the reported benefits are so attractive, that they decide to give it a try.” Yes, even we are left pretty much speechless by that statement.

In short, IPT proponents have been treating patients for decades with no evidence whatsoever, and no plausible mechanism proposed for how or why it is supposed to work (at least three IPT providers, Russell Hunt (2007, Tennessee), Les Breitman (2012, California) and Juergen Winkler (2012, California)) have been disciplined by their state medical boards, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg). It’s bit like homeopathy for cancer, really.

Diagnosis: No, there is no end to the bullshit. For any problem you may experience, there are numerous crackpots lined up with suggestions ranging from the idiotic to the dangerous. Stephen Ayre is one of the more influential. Keep a safe distance.

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