Duke's #1 cancer doc recommends quack Anil Potti for SC medical license: "impressive research program" and "honesty, integrity"

Search words: Anil Potti, Duke University

Fact Checker here. Good day.

Using official stationery, Duke's #1 cancer doctor has highly praised the disgraced cancer quack Anil Potti, citing an "impressive research program" and asserting the words "honesty, integrity" characterize Potti's years at Duke.

The context was Potti's application for a license to practice in South Carolina, which has now been granted.

Potti -- once a rising star of Duke Medicine -- is best known for inventing a Rhodes Scholarship for himself, for faking research, for having the American Cancer Society demand its research money back, and for having his colleagues retract four of their joint medical journal publications so far. Under investigation, Potti resigned voluntarily last November after Duke suspended him with pay.

In all, four Duke doctors wrote letters of recommendation. They were successful.

Potti is now the only cancer doctor in Loris, South Carolina, affiliated with a group practice called Coastal Cancer Center in Myrtle Beach. Loris is a hamlet of 2,079 people, nestled near the North Carolina border and Atlantic Ocean.

Coastal Cancer states on its website that it not only treats patients, but has research contracts and does drug testing for pharmaceutical companies.

FC was tipped by a Loyal Reader whose sister was in one of Potti's fake cancer research trials at Duke. The trials -- human experiments -- allegedly tested a break-thru theory to use genome science to target cancers with specific drugs. The University now says that permitting the trials was an error -- not only allowing them to start, but allowing them to restart after being temporarily suspended after a challenge.

Other scientists say the theory had no validity whatsoever.

A Deputy FC invoked the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the lengthy application Potti filled out by hand, in order to practice medicine in a new state.

In addition to the letters of recommendation, the application includes form after form filled out in Potti's handwriting, a very comprehensive look into the applicant, in FC's opinion.

Asked "Are you currently under investigation or the subject of pending disciplinary action by any Medical Licensing Board, health care facility or other entity," Potti initially checked NO. But then crossed that out and checked YES.

Duke does have a faculty misconduct investigation underway, but like so much else around this campus, this is under a shroud of secrecy. FC does not even know if any of Potti's collaborators are also facing charges, or if Duke has ever determined how Potti pulled off the grand scheme of research fraud without complicity.

Potti answered this question "Have you ever had any hospital privileges denied, revoked, suspended or restricted in any way?" but checking NO. While FC is not certain of the dimensions of Duke's suspension of him last year, we believe it included withholding of his privileges at Duke Hospital.

Potti, who went into exile at his home in Chapel Hill for several months, also said no to a question asking "Have you ever discontinued the practice of medicine for any reason for one month or more?"

The strongest letter of recommendation was signed by a Duke heavy-weight: Dr. Jeffrey Crawford, Geller Professor for Research in Cancer and Chief of the Division of Medical Oncology. He covered Potti's work with patients as well as his research, while the other three letters seemed to take pains to speak only about his work with patients.

Crawford wrote "During his tenure at Duke, Anil developed an impressive research program..." He earned "great admiration and respect," and was "honest." To drive that point home, Crawford later uses the words "honesty, integrity" to describe Potti's career at Duke. Please scroll down for the full texts.

✔✔ Among documents submitted by Dr. Potti, who went to medical school in India, FC noted that Potti failed the United States Medical Licensing Exam, step 2, the first time he took the test in September 1994. He retook the test in June 1995, and passed. He completed step 3 while at the University of North Dakota.

Potti lists only two states where he has medical licenses in his application -- Minnesota and North Carolina. He omits North Dakota, where apparently he was never licensed despite his service in the universitiy hospital, and Missouri, a medical license revealed in on-line documentation from the South Carolina medical board.


FACT CHECKER FLASHBACK -- our post of Nov 22, 2010


We do not find that Uncle Dick has taken any profile at all, that is to say exhibited any leadership. In particular, he has not expressed appropriate concern for the patients.

Brodhead's only important comment came just after The Cancer Letter reported Potti's fake claim of a Rhodes Scholarship and the Rhodes Trust confirmed there was no award. With other credential issues looming at the time, Brodhead cautioned the editorial board of the Herald-Sun not to reach rapid conclusions of truth or lie, for there could also be "intermediate explanation."

(( Brodhead also stated,, when asked why no one checked on Potti's fake Rhodes Scholarship, "The university will in general continue to accept credentials on their face as presented by the people who present them... We're not going to start running background checks and police checks on everybody... You can't reasonably do that, nor is there a need to." ))

Pathetic. Dick, just pathetic.


While different numbers have surfaced, we believe 1,518 people came to Duke in desperation, people with life-threatening cancers, people grasping for hope who were channeled to Potti's office for review for possible inclusion in his clinical trials -- which is to say human experiments employing his theories that DNA and RNA -- the human genome -- contained information on how to fight specific cancers.

We do not know how many patients were accepted. We do know 109 people were in the trials at the point last winter when Duke, questioning Potti's science, suspended new enrollments for several months, a decision that did not affect the 109.

As Loyal Readers know, Duke subsequently re-opened enrollment after an internal review turned out glowing. We do not know how many more joined at that point.

All of these people signed "informed consent" forms -- meaning they were fully briefed on the experiments and the chances. What they expected, however, was a good faith experiment, not bunk. Not bunk within the walls of a university medical center that had plenty of warning Potti's science held no water.

Even the people who were merely screened were deeply affected. It is our understanding that many underwent painful, sometimes dangerous procedures to get tissue from lung and ovarian cancers for analysis.

At least 109 were given specific chemotherapy based upon Potti's "discovery" of what would work; they gave up other possible treatments.

Duke maintains they were not harmed. We believe this is a very cynical approach derived from the following: before Potti claimed otherwise, no one knew what therapy would work best against an individual's cancer -- or if it would work at all. It was hit or miss. So Duke figures that everyone in the Potti trials could have been given the precise chemotherapy Potti gave them, and thus the patients are not any worse off for his phony science.

Worse off physically that is; no one is speaking of the stress and mental turmoil that would occur when you learn your cancer doc is a quack.

That's our interpretation; we await confirmation.

We have heard no one outside the boundaries of this campus who is speaking up to say the patients were not harmed.

The Cancer Letter -- which has broken most of the news in the Potti scandal -- turned to Dr. George Sledge, the President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a professor at Indiana University, for interpretation. "It is safe to assume that patients might have been assigned to treatments that were unlikely to benefit them and possibly even to harm them."

And Dr. David Carbone, chair of cancer research at Vanderbilt: because of errors in Potti's research, "you may be withholding an effective treatment from some people or giving an ineffective targeted drug" suggested by the research. And "there is the possibility of patient harm."

From Dr.John Ruckdeschel, director and CEO of the Nevada Cancer Institute: "The potential for patients to have been treated differently than they might have otherwise been is present."

My fellow Dukies, one person who writes FC all the time, often with funny flippant information, says he has chartered a bus to bring plaintiffs' lawyers to Duke.



FLASH BACK # 2 - November 29, 2010

The Chronicle has never told its readers how Dr Nevins -- who endorsed Potti's research as one of many co-authors -- finally "dug down" to the first level of research in one study and looked at 59 initial samples of ovarian cancer Potti was analyzing.

16 of those samples are not this kind of cancer at all. Nevins: "At this point, I cannot trace the origin or nature of these samples."

Of the remaining 43 samples, the news is not much better. "The tumor ID labels for these samples are incorrect. In a large number of these cases, the mis-identification results in reversal of the clinical annotation of response vs. non-response." In other words, chemotherapy that helped a patient was recorded as not helping, and chemotherapy that did no good was recorded as helping.

This is not just sloppiness. Particularly when the results of your "science" are going to lead to clinical trials, which translated into English means experiments on human beings.

Nevins co-authored at least eight medical journal articles with Potti. So far he's reviewed two ( update four ) and found validity in none. Fellow Dukies, Fasten your seat belts!


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