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Opinion: Ruta 6 for brain cancer - a scientific paper proving homoeopathy?

Posted on: 01/22/2011

Opinion: Ruta 6 for brain cancer - a scientific paper proving homoeopathy?

After the broadcast by CBC Marketplace, the debate regarding the efficacy of homoeopathy goes on. In a comment, a reader posted a scientific paper that is purported to show that homoeopathy cures brain cancer. Let's have a look.
Thanks to the recent airing by the CBC of anepisode of its consumer protection programme Marketplace, homoeopathy is in the news at the moment. Homoeopaths like to present themselves as nice people, but this niceness seems to be mostly reserved for paying customers, far less for those who doubt homoeopathy and come up with hard evidence that shows that homoeopathy is -on the whole- not better than placebo, and quite a bit more expensive.
In reaction to my article “Do homoeopaths truly treat cancer or is this a lie?”, someone posted the summary of an academic paper that demonstrates the effectiveness of homoeopathy in the treatment of brain cancer. It goes under the lovely title of:
Ruta 6 selectively induces cell death in brain cancer cells but proliferation in normal peripheral blood lymphocytes: A novel treatment for human brain cancer
The paper was written by:
Sen Pathak of the departments of Cancer Biology and Laboratory Medicine at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; Asha S. Multani of the department of Cancer Biology at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; Pratip Banerji and Prasanta Banerji, a father-and-son team of the PBH Research Foundation in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
The paper was published in 2003 in the International Journal of Oncology, a journal published by the Greek company Spandidos Publications.
I thought that this was a good occasion to show how homoeopaths are “playing scientist” rather than “doing science”, and how it is often not difficult to spot this, even for non-scientists.
The paper describes not one but two trials. One trial is in vitro, the other in vivo. Since we are trying to find out whether homoeopathy is efficacious in living humans, not in Petri dishes, we can simply ignore the in vitro test.
Please note that this does not imply by any stretch of the imagination that in vitro tests have no value. They do. However, in vitro tests are an indication at most, a search for possibilities or mechanisms, and they cannot be extrapolated to living, complete human beings. Many, if not most, of the claims by alternologists are overextrapolations of in vitro tests, something no knowledgeable scientist would do.
Under the heading ‘Materials and methods’, we find out what is meant by Ruta 6. Ruta is itself prepared from the common rue, also known as Herb-of-Grace (Ruta graveolens). Ruta Q was ordered from a company in India. The article contains no information on how the mother tincture was made.
This mother tincture was diluted to Ruta 1 by adding 1 ml of Ruta Q to 99 ml of ethanol, resulting in Ruta 2. 1 ml of Ruta 2 was added to 99 ml of ethanol, resulting in Ruta 3, and so on until Ruta 6 was made. This means that the original 1 ml of the mother tincture has now been reduced to 10-12 ml or 0.000000000001 ml mixed with 0.999999999999 ml ethanol. In other words, 1 ml of Ruta 6 contains a negligible amount of the mother tincture.
In spite of what the title of the article suggests, this is not a trial of just Ruta 6. It is a trial of a combination of Ruta graveolens 6C and Calcarea phosphorica 3X. This is noteworthy because classical homoeopathy allows for only one product to be used at once. However, many homoeopaths do not follow this rule and will therefore allow the concurrent use of more than one homoeopathic product.
This trial was done on 15 (9 males, 6 females) patients aged from 10 to 65. 9 patients were diagnosed with glioma, 3 with meningioma, 1 with craniopharyngioma, 1 with neurinomaand 1 with pituitary tumours. The diagnosis was based on radiology and/or histopathology. The time required for cure/symptom-free state/static condition was from 3 months to 7 years.
The patients were given two drops or about 100 µl of Ruta 6 in a teaspoonful (about 5 ml) of drinking water taken orally, twice a day. The usual dose of calcium phosphate was 5 grains (about 0.234 g) taken orally, twice a day.
The patients gradually improved, as indicated by serial computed tomography scans and clinical examinations, but these are not provided with the paper. Of the nine glioma patients, eight showed “complete regression”, while the ninth had partial regression. Of the three meningioma patients, one had complete regression while two had “prolonged arrest” of their tumours. The patient with craniopharyngioma and the patient with pituitary tumours showed complete regression and the neurinoma patient had “prolonged arrest” of her tumour as determined by computed tomographic scans.
The authors concluded from this that a combination of Ruta 6 and calcium phosphate taken orally can either block the progress of or cause complete regression of human glioma brain cancers with minimal or no side effects. The glioma patients did better than the others.
The authors go on to say that although the number of patients in the group was small, the outcome of the homoeopathic treatment was highly encouraging and “novel”.
The authors’ final conclusion is that Ruta has the novel property of preferentially killing human glioma brain cancer cells and protecting normal body cells. They say that overall, their results show that plant-derived Ruta 6 and calcium phosphate, when taken orally, can induce regression of human glioma brain cancers in vivo.
So, what is the problem with this study? It seems all convincing enough, does it not? Not quite.
What should be clear from this list, is that the trial participants cannot be compared with each other: this group was haphazardly put together, the diagnoses cannot be compared, it is unclear how their diagnoses were established, nor is it clear what the criteria were for improvement, there was no blinding, and there were no controls to compare the results with. To make things worse, it was a very small group, making it impossible to derive significant statistics, to the extent that the authors didn't even bother with statistics.
At the very least, if nothing else, it should be obvious even to a cursory reader that suspiciously little information is given about the trial participants, their diseases, their treatments and their progress.
In other words, this study is meaningless. Even if we accept that the patients gradually improved, which is uncertain at best, there is absolutely no way that we can conclude that the treatment was the cause of this improvement.
Conclusion: this study proves nothing.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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