was listening to NPR this morning and they had a story about a scientist in China called
Doctor Who (sorry - couldn’t resist) Doctor Hu whose company is offering stem cell treatments for a variety of conditions.
Jena Teague and her husband Terry Williams are among these new visitors. They traveled to China to seek stem-cell treatment for their blind, 7-month-old baby daughter, Laylah.
the family traveled to the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where Beike is based. They are spending $23,000 for Laylah to have infusions of stem cells harvested from umbilical cord.
The doctors have told Laylah's parents that the baby now sees light through one eye, while the other eye is dilating almost to the point where she can see light.
Of course, we can’t know if the treatment is really working. The Chinese scientists don’t know what method might be behind it, which isn’t encouraging. No clinical trials have been carried out and no research has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The risks are unknown. And doctors in the US are not recommending that patients go to China for this treatment.
Also, other scientists in China have their doubts:
Dr. Naihe Jing is the deputy director of one of China's top stem-cell research labs and a member of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences. He fears Beike could ruin the reputation of China's entire biotech industry.
Still, whether it proves to be a breakthrough or not, one thing struck me – how ludicrous the labels of “western medicine” and “Chinese medicine” are. For example, the idiot Bill Maher on TV recently advised quintuple bypass survivor David Letterman to stop taking the pills his doctor had prescribed him, because this was “western medicine” - something Maher doesn’t accept. So was Maher suggesting Letterman visit China for stem cell treatment? What is stem cell therapy anyway? It’s practiced in China – a country that also apparently has a biotech industry – so does that mean it’s not western? Perhaps Maher was warning Letterman off humors and bloodletting – western medicine for sure, although rather an unconventional treatment in Europe today.
Or perhaps Maher is just a confused idiot.
The truth is, ancient people, who did not understand how the body works or what really made people ill, just made stuff up about these things. The ancient Chinese made up stuff about meridians and chi. Ancient Indians made up stuff about chakras. Ancient Europeans made up stuff about humors. We now know better, and so have abandoned humors and bloodletting. The only mystery is why people still insist that chi and chakras are real. But whatever you believe is real, the distinction clearly is not between “western” and “eastern” (fill in your preferred country) therapies. The distinction is between therapies that work and those that don’t. Scientists in China are researching real medicine, and trying to find out what works and what doesn’t, just like scientists in the west. Maybe some have oversold their results, but scientific procedures, not ancient myth, will ultimately decide what works and what doesn’t
So can we now please abandon this pretence that doctors in the west practice something called “western medicine”, while the Chinese have access to some secret knowledge that “western science” still hasn’t yet caught up with? There is only medicine that works – or at least, is backed by reliable evidence that it does – and pre-scientific superstitious quackery that doesn’t. The East/West labels mean nothing. And the next time some twit like Maher intones gravely against “western medicine”, just say, “yeah, I don’t fancy bloodletting either” - and advise him to go visit Doctor Hu in Hangzhou. Preferably on a one-way ticket.
March 19 - Update
Steven Novella is even less impressed with this Chinese stem cell therapy than I was.