There’s never been a truer aphorism than doctors differ and patients die.

Drs. Henry Lowe and Joseph Bryant claim to have successfully isolated a neutraceutical product from Jamaican Ball Moss (scientific name “Tillandsia Recurvata”; Jamaican name “Old Man Beard”) which promotes prostate health and can reduce or eliminate prostate cancer’s effects.  Members of the local medical fraternity have reacted with suspicion, disbelief and outright hostility.  Where’s the evidence of traditional clinical trials?  So what if it works in the lab, will it work on humans?  What are the side effects?  What’s the toxicity?  This isn’t like sorrel – consumed for generations.  How do we know it’s not harmful?

One local practitioner stated that, unless and until the results of traditional rigorous independent analysis and clinical trials are widely published, doctors won’t prescribe the drug.  Well, bully for them.

It seems to me Jamaicans are overly suspicious regarding fellow Jamaicans’ prowess until it’s recognised internationally by “independent” or “traditional” organisations or publications. But “traditional” is inherently contradictory to “discovery” which itself is something infrequently accomplished by crowds.

The independent analysis and approval process being trumpeted is the same tradition that sometimes results in drug companies becoming rich(er) from patented drugs for which clinical trials can be ‘fixed’; government approvals bought; and which drug pushers disguised as doctors market to under-informed, impoverished and overly-trusting patients.

This traditional process produced one of history’s greatest medical tragedies created by Thalidomide, a new drug, duly approved in the U.K. in 1958.  The resulting birth defects (no hands; no feet; webs as hands or feet) when taken by pregnant women were heartbreaking.  In the U.S.A, doctors distributed millions of tablets as “clinical tests” while FDA with-held approval for further testing.  Numerous lawsuits from thalidomide victims were settled.

Circa 1995, after traditional “independent” analyses, “clinical” tests and, of course, wide publication, the FDA approved mibefradil, a drug to treat hypertension and chronic angina pectoris (heart disease).  When subsequent congestive heart failure trials established that more mibefradil patients died than those taking placebo, it had to be withdrawn.  The official announcement from Roche (Hoffmann–La Roche AG of Basel, Switzerland, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies) stated the withdrawal was voluntary “due to the potential for drug interactions, some of them serious, which may occur when it’s taken together with some other medications”.  Right!  How was it approved in the first place?

Don’t start me on dexfenfluramine (popular diet pill known as “Redux” approved by the FDA around 1995 but withdrawn in 1997 following multiple concerns about cardiovascular side-effects) or bromfenac sodium (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drop) which, as far as I know, is still being marketed (oops, sorry, “prescribed”) by doctors despite serious reservations being expressed by the FDA Medical officer after a post-FDA approval review.

The bromfenac sodium patent is held by Senju Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. of Osaka, Japan.  One bromfenac product (Xibrom) is approved for use to treat swelling and pain after cataract surgery. In April 2010, Senju was sued by a patent licensee, ISTA Pharmaceuticals Inc., seeking to be relieved of further royalty payments due to the death of a patient treated with Xibrom.  Senju’s lawyers retaliated strategically with a successful application to stay the lawsuit pending arbitration.  Despite the terms of the stay (granted August 26), Senju has yet to commence arbitration proceedings.

Everything found in nature has harmful and helpful qualities.  It’s up to researchers to isolate the helpful qualities as best they can.  Take Marijuana.  The natural plant, cannabis sativa, contains over 420 chemical compounds including about 80 terpeno-phenol compounds that haven’t been detected in any other plant.  For political reasons, governments have focussed on the most psychotropic of these (let’s call it delta 9 because, trust me, you don’t want to know the full name) with their notoriously harmful results as binders with specific receptors affecting brain development.  Creative thinking non traditional researchers discovered a specific receptor for delta9 then isolated and identified endogenous (animal) ligands (“molecules”) called endocannabinoids.  Combined, the receptors, endogenous ligands and the mechanisms for endocannabinoid biosynthesis and inactivation were found to modulate several physiological and pathophysiological processes including pain perception.  Voila, medical marijuana, from a source consumed for decades in Jamaica but with only what the traditional medical fraternity called toxic effects.

So, to local doctors asking for traditional certainty, I suggest a large dose of arsenic or cyanide with tonight’s dinner.  Putting certainty aside, what about supporting a fellow Jamaican’s ambition, especially one accompanied by actual research, involving an indigenous plant never known to be harmful and unlikely to ever be?

We love tearing our own down.  Bob Marley was just a hooligan and ganja smoking troublemaker before Blackwell marketed him abroad.  Marcus Garvey, vilified at home, was worshipped abroad.  If you want to abuse Dr Lowe for not being “name-brand” don’t forget his partner, Dr Joseph Bryant, is a senior researcher at the University of Maryland’s Department of Medicine. He directs the Institute of Human Virology’s (IHV) Animal Models Division and is director of Maryland University Biotechnology Institute’s Animal Core Facility.

His IHV research team created the first transgenic rats whose DNA was manipulated to incorporate genes of HIV-1 opening new areas of human HIV/AIDS study for scientists.  This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky grasper for attention.  If he’s convinced that Dr Lowe’s work is worth pursuing, that’s good enough for me.  Local nay-sayers can continue to peddle traditionally approved medicines but why rely on conservatism alone to block possible future breakthroughs. Can “Old Man Beard” turn out to be the cure for HIV?  Anything’s possible if we believe.

There’s a message for these traditionalists in an apocryphal thalidomide story.  A boy, whose mother had taken Thalidomide, was born without torso or appendage just a head.  Yet, somehow, he survived.  As he grew older, his mother would put him on the buffet so he could see, through the window, children playing in the street.  He desperately wanted to join them but couldn’t.  One morning, as he was staring out the window, his Fairy Godmother appeared in a puff of smoke and granted him one wish.  He wished to be like other boys and play in the street.  With a wave of her magic wand, the boy’s wish came true.  Joyously, he rushed out into the street to play. Immediately, a speeding Mack Truck wiped him off the face of the earth.

The moral of the story?  Quit while you’re ahead.

Peace and Love


One Response to “DOCTORS!”

  1. Liz Says:

    Love your article and agree wholeheartedly that “We love tearing our own down” until someone else gives recognition/praise, then we jump on the ban waggon, declare them born and bred Jamaicans and state how much we contributed to their success. Enjoy reading your articles. Keep up the good work.

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