Your Friday Dose of Woo: Homeopathic gene therapy?

It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

Besides indulging my taste for shamelessly working lyrics from Led Zeppelin and other classic bands into my post, what am I talking about? Simple. Things have been way too serious lately. I mean, just look at yesterday’s post. Sure, I framed it semi-humorously, with The Evil Skeptics infiltrating the screening of the Burzynski sequel, but part of the reason that I did that is because the subject matter is so unrelentingly depressing. That’s why when a reader sent me a link to the victim target subject of today’s post, it was like manna from heaven, pure fluff. It was something that demanded that I resurrect a feature that I haven’t done in a very long time on this blog.

We’re talking Friday Dose of Woo, baby!

Even better, this particular bit of woo that I’m about to discuss allows me to combine my penchant for delving into the most amusing pseudoscience I can with my long experience in molecular biology and interest in gene-targeted therapy. Even better, it combines homeopathy with gene-targeted therapy. Seriously, that’s exactly what this lovely bit of woo does. Are you ready? Let me introduce you to…Homeovitality! This post will quote a lot because, well, sometimes it’s better to let you see for yourself rather than to try to make a joke of something whose nature as a joke speaks for itself and is more hilarious than anything my powers of humor, although now fairly formidable, can come up with. Take a look:

In 1997, Prof. Khuda-Bukhsh proposed that homeopathic substances have the capacity to interact with the genetic blueprint and deliver their benefits by increasing the expression of genes that synthesise health promoting proteins. Since then, work by Prof. Khuda-Bukhsh [2, and within Ref. 2] and other scientists [3][4] have clearly demonstrated that homeopathic substances do have the capacity to do this.

The genetic blueprint contains many genes that promote health as well as many genes that cause disease. With a view to increasing the specificity and safety of gene targeting by homeopathic DNA, (because homeopathic DNA, which is of undefined sequence, induces various disease symptoms in healthy people) Drs. Jenaer and Marichal pioneered the use of highly diluted small DNA molecules with well-defined sequences to target immune response genes and fight infections. Their system, called Micro-Immunotherapy proved to be very effective. The Homeovitality system was developed along the same lines as Micro-Immunotherapy.

The Homeovitality system uses highly diluted DNA molecules with precise sequences to target genes that produce the body’s natural proteins that have been proven to promote health as well as protect against and resolve many diseases.

I can’t help but note that one of the references cited here is an abysmally awful study testing homeopathic remedies on breast cancer cells in tissue culture that Rachael Dunlop deconstructed, as did I. The rest are in “integrative medicine” journals of dubious heritage. Either way, none of the evidence is convincing. It is, after all, homeopathy, and speculating about homeopathic remedies working “at the gene level” caused me to start tittering hysterically, which then progressed to gut-busting guffaws, and then to uncontrolled hysterical laughter that I couldn’t control.

In retrospect, it occurs to me that I had sort of thought of the very same thing before. After all, consider the concepts behind homeopathy. Well, consider one of the concepts, anyway. Everyone knows the Law of Infinitesimals, which states that diluting a homeopathic remedy makes it stronger. Of course, to recap, the power of serial dilution in which a 1:100 dilution (commonly called 1C) is repeated 6, 12, 30, or even 100 times, soon dilutes away the starting compound to nonexistence. It’s the power of Avogadro’s number versus homeopathy. For example, a typical 30 C homeopathic remedy is a dilution of (102)30 – 1060. Given that Avogadro’s number is 6.023 x 1023, it’s not hard to see how ridiculous this is and how a 30C remedy has been diluted to nonexistence, except perhaps for contamination of molecules that might stick to the container used to do the dilutions.

But the Law of Similars is the one that is in play here, and this is where the woo behind Homeovitality reaches woo genius. True, it’s not quite as amazing as the extra etheric strands of DNA postulated in DNA Activation, but it’s pretty amazing because it combines the quackery of homeopathy with genetic engineering. Actually, it combines more than that. It combines concepts in evolution, such as hybrid vigor, promising with homeopathy and molecular biology, actually gene therapy. Here’s what I mean. After being told that Homeovitality is based on the “proven principles of Bernard Marichal’s gene targeting technology,” we learn:

A few years ago, Dr. Marichal established the use of highly diluted DNA molecules with specific nucleotide sequences to alleviate disease by targeting beneficial parts of the genetic blueprint. Dr Marichal refers to the use of highly diluted DNA molecules of specific sequences (called SNA, specific nucleic acids) as New Homeopathy [1]. He has used highly diluted DNA molecules to target immune response genes to prevent disease and fight infections that do not respond to antibiotics.

See what I mean? Genius! What’s the ultimate version of “like cures like”? DNA! You take the sequence of a gene that produces a protein that causes a certain symptom and “target” it with homeopathy by giving a homeopathic dilution of that DNA. Brilliant! But how could it possibly work? (I’m being sarcastic, here of course, but go with me for a minute). Fortunately, the Homeovitality people are only too happy to explain. First, they say they don’t know how it works. Then they write:

Firstly, Prof. Kornyshev and his colleagues recently discovered that DNA molecules are able to communicate with each other through sequence identity [3], suggesting that DNA molecules have some way of emitting signals that can be recognized by other DNA molecules with the same sequence. Secondly, Prof. Montagnier and his fellow scientists have actually discovered [4] that highly diluted DNA molecules, approximately 5-6C, have the capacity to emit electromagnetic signals, especially when they have been mechanically agitated (succussed).

Montagnier. It had to be Montagnier. You recall, don’t you, how Luc Montagnier, who won the Nobel Prize a few years back for his work on HIV, has become a complete crank, not only with his embrace of the pseudoscience of homeopathy, of which his “study” of highly diluted DNA is but one example. He’s also embraced autism quackery in a big, sweaty bear hug. In any case, Homeovitality involves using DNA sequences that Marichal calls “potentized specific nucleic acids” (SNA) as part of the therapy, which is part of a therapy he now calls MicroImmunotherapy:

DNA (occasionally RNA) carries the genetic code for all living organisms from the tiniest virus to the complex nature of human beings. Therefore it should be possible to determine the zones of the genome, of either self and/or non self in human beings as well as areas in the genetic code of a pathogen which can potentially be the cause of upsetting cell physiology. These zones are the target for the therapy both as a preventative and curative measure. The codes of the SNA are chosen specifically with this in mind, acting at the `root’ of the problem.

As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and apparently Bernard Marichal had a little knowledge about molecular biology and gene therapy, which he uses to hilarious effect to come up with Homeovitality. On the other hand, it’s claimed that a man named Peter H. Kay, “world renowned scientist, molecular pathologist, immunologist and geneticist,” was responsible for the Homeovitality micro-DNA therapy system, which he developed to allow everyone to enjoy “super health.” I couldn’t resist Googling his name, and that quickly led me to multiple articles and web pages extolling the wonderous woo that is Homeovitality. Let’s take a quick look at one that was published on a website by a homeopath who might even be loonier than Internet homeopath attack Chihuahua extraordinaire Dana Ullman. I’m referring, of course, to Nancy Malik. In it, after introducing a concept he calls “homeogenetics” (I kid you not), which he defines as “the future field of study investigating the interactive processes between the genetic blueprint and homeopathy” (just like nutrigenetics and pharmacogenetics!), another article on Homeovitality, Kay writes:

So, how to develop a way of using homeopathic experiences to target specific health promoting genes? It has been done by combining the results of the use of homeopathic DNA, New Homeopathy (Micro-Immunotherapy) and the discovery of new properties of DNA, as outlined below.

As already stated, human DNA, the genetic blueprint, contains many genes that promote health as well as genes that cause disease. DNA is a well established ingredient that is used to prepare a homeopathic remedy. Its use is included in Materia Medicas compiled by practitioners such as Dr O.A Julian and Phillip Robbins and others.

The DNA proving process confirms that homeopathic DNA, which may comprise whole genomic DNA from species such as fish, plants or cattle and of unknown sequence and molecular size, can activate genes that cause disease. With a view to increasing the specificity and safety of gene targeting by homeopathic DNA, Drs. Jenaer and Marichal pioneered the use of highly diluted small DNA molecules with well defined sequences to target immune response genes and fight infections. Their system, called Micro-Immunotherapy proved to be very effective and specific.

So let’s see. Homeopathic “provings,” which is the word for the process by which homeopaths “prove” what therapies to use by giving the undiluted substance to healthy people and having them write down their experiences, show that whole genomic DNA from other species can change gene expression. I suppose that’s possible, because DNA will be rapidly digested in the stomach and digestive tract into component nucleic acids, which are necessary to make more DNA and to be used in other metabolic functions in the body. Of course, that’s the nasty reductionist in me talking. To work, homeopathic DNA has to be diluted and succussed, and its magic doesn’t come from boring old biochemical processes that can actually be studied and quantified! Oh, no! It’s the magic of the DNA sequence signaling to your body’s own DNA through apparently either the magical memory of water or some “quantum teleportation” or “radio waves” if you believe Luc Montagne (I’m not sure which—maybe it’s both). Yet later in the article, Kay writes:

The Homeovitality system is safe because, unlike homeopathic DNA, it cannot target parts of the genetic blueprint or genes that cause disease. In this context, even though it is simply a refinement of the use of homeopathic DNA, it is not strictly homeopathic because it cannot induce symptoms of disease in healthy subjects. It cannot cause aggravations in disease sufferers. It cannot be subject to the proving process.

So which is it? I do find it hilarious that Homeovitality is apparently homeopathy, yet not homeopathy. Maybe it’s like Schrödinger’s cat, simultaneously dead and not dead as long as you don’t look in the box. I’m pleasantly surprised that, in the posts I read at least, Kay didn’t beat on the word “quantum” as much as homeopaths usually do. In any case, why wouldn’t Homeovitality DNA be subject to provings? All you’d have to do is to take the undiluted DNA sequence you plan to use and do a proving with it. Just do some Maxipreps of, say, some pcDNA3.1 expression vector with an insert containing the cDNA for a gene like IL-10 (mentioned in one of Kay’s articles), cut out the insert and then purify it. All you’d have to do then is to give it to some healthy volunteers, and—voila!—a homeopathic proving. After all, homeopaths did it for plutonium and claimed to have done it for antimatter, so why not specific homeopathic DNA sequences. Inquiring minds want to know!

Let’s take a look at the product descriptions, which can be found here, in which DNA for various cytokines. In fact, going to the Homeovitality store and clicking on the product pages is pure depression and lulz all combined. Specifically, I was interested in what was in these products; so I looked first at Age Well, which claims—of course!—to be an antiaging treatment. This is what it is made of:

Acidum Nucleicum KLO/GH1/IL7 UHD at 10-12
Stabiliser* – 0.014mg/mL
Ethanol (25%) in purified water
*Sodium Phosphate buffer

I do so love the homeopathic lingo, turning DNA into “acidum nucleicum” with the abbreviations for the genes (KLO/GH1/IL7) after them. But notice something. It’s apparently only a 6C dilution, as it’s at a 10-12. That means there might actually be a little bit of DNA left in there. The horror! Of course, that’s assuming that these guys know what they’re doing in a molecular biology lab and can even isolate purified DNA of sufficient quantity and quality to make this “remedy.” I want to see the gels! I want to see the restriction digests! I also notice that Kay has at least a little knowledge of molecular biology in that he apparently knows that you can’t just put DNA into pure water and expect it not to degrade over time. It is an acid and it does autohydrolyze in water, albeit not nearly as fast as RNA does. It’s much more stable in a Tris or phosphate buffer; so apparently Kay puts his Homeovitality products in either phosphate-buffered saline or a phosphate buffer (it’s not specified). Science, right? Just like this rationale for including IL-7 sequences in the Age Well product:

IL-7, on the other hand, is a natural cytokine that has the ability to stimulate the production of new immuno-competent cells in the bone marrow [5]. As well as helping to boost the production of immune cells that kill viruses, T-cells, and others that neutralise toxins and fight infection, B cells, in the aged, it may also be of help to boost the production of new immune cells in those that suffer generalised immune deficiency.

Of course, imbibing a dilute solution containing the sequence of IL-7 (if it even contains that) will do exactly…almost nothing. What it will do is to provide the body with a minute quantity of nucleic acids, and that’s about it. You’d get way more nucleic acids from eating a nice steak—or even a nice salad.

Then there’s Cancer Care, which includes the cDNA for two tumor suppressor genes, KEAP1 and a gene associated with lung cancer metastasis, TIP30. Now I’m really confused. The rationale for doing this, as flaked out as it is, seems to be the same sort of dull, mundane, scientific rationale for gene therapy of cancer: Restore the function of tumor suppressor genes. However, by the Law of Similars, wouldn’t Kay want to try to treat or prevent cancer using a homeopathic dilution of something that causes cancer, say an oncogene or two, like abl, erbB2, B-raf, or src? I’m so confused, but I guess that’s OK, because Kay certainly seems to be quite confused himself. I also can’t help but note that TIP30 is actually HIV Tat-interacting protein and specifically enhances HIV-1 Tat-activated transcription. Shouldn’t there be a warning on the label that anyone who is HIV-positive should absolutely not take Cancer Care? Or maybe the homeopathic TIP30 would treat HIV because of the principle of “like cures like.” Again, I’m so confused.

I leave as an exercise to my readers going through some of the other Homeovitality products. For those of you with a background in medicine or biomedical science, there will be hilarity aplenty, I promise you. If that’s not enough to entertain you, feel free to take on this Homeovitality FAQ as well.