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Probing Edges Of Medicine -- And Reality

"It's relatively easy to do a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of something that fits into a capsule," Grimm said, but not for a non-drug treatment.

Andew J. Vickers, an assistant attending research methodologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said the Samueli Institute should be judged on the quality of science it supports. Vickers said he forsees three possible outcomes for the research on homeopathy and prayer. The first is that they work, the second is that "none of this works and it's a waste of time" and the third is that "they find other things along the way that would be scientifically useful. Science is full of examples of that."

Suddenly Samueli

It was Susan Samueli's longstanding interest in alternative medicine that led to the creation of the institute in 2001, Jonas said. Around the same time, she and her husband Henry endowed the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine in the medical school at the University of California, Irvine.

The family's fortune comes from Henry Samueli's interest in Broadcom, a company he co-founded in the early 1990s while on leave from teaching at UCLA, where he earned a doctorate in electrical engineering. Broadcom pioneered the manufacture of chips used in DSL and cable modems just before the demand for these chips skyrocketed. Over a period of a few years, that invention catapulted the Samuelis from middle-class comfort to the ranks of the Forbes 400, a listing of America's richest families.

The son of Polish Holocaust survivors who as a youth worked in his family's liquor store, Henry Samueli has made record gifts to the engineering schools at UC Irvine and UCLA, both of which now bear his name. Several months ago the couple bought the Mighty Ducks professional hockey team.

Susan Samueli, whose undergraduate degree in math is from Berkeley, has a PhD from the American Holistic College of Nutrition and a diploma from a British homeopathic institute. The holistic college is an unaccredited correspondence school located in Birmingham, Ala.

Jonas's interest in homeopathy dates back to college. In a 1996 book entitled "Healing With Homeopathy," he wrote that as a medical student he suggested trying homeopathy on several patients who were faring poorly with conventional treatments and was upbraided by supervisors.

Later, while stationed as an Army doctor in Germany, where homeopathy is popular, Jonas said his interest in the subject grew, in part because he couldn't understand how it might work.

Jonas said he thinks the answer might lie in a substance released by an ingredient in glass or could be due to the placebo effect. He said he doubts the view, widely held by other homeopaths, that the water somehow retains the "memory" of the diluted substance, which results in healing.

"There are possible ways to explain this on a rational basis," he said.

Two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jonas, a former official at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, urged Congress to consider the use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism. In testimony before a commitee chaired by Indiana's Republican Rep. Dan Burton, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of alternative medicine in Congress, Jonas said that "homeopathic medical literature reveals numerous reports of apparently successful treatment of epidemic diseases . . . including smallpox" from the last century.

A month later NCCAM chief Stephen E. Straus, a virologist, warned the House commitee against using alternative remedies for biological weapons.


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