A University of Queensland medical researcher and up to eight of his co-authors are now under scrutiny following an ABC report into an alleged failure to disclose links to controversial North Coast-based group Universal Medicine.
According to the ABC, the UQ ethics committee approved the studies but researchers must fully disclose ‘conflicts of interest’. UQ and international journals that published articles by the researchers are now investigating allegations that there were undeclared conflicts of interest by some researchers.
According to the report, which ran on the ABC’s flagship The World Today program on Monday (April 16), four of the researchers have publicly advocated for UM practices, two are presenters at the UM’s College of Universal Medicine, while two others are a naturopath and a psychologist who practice at UM’s Brisbane clinic
The ABC program named Christoph Schnelle, a UQ faculty of medicine researcher who was the lead author of three articles on UM health practices, and a second public advocate of UM within UQ’s faculty of medicine, Clayfield GP and associate lecturer Amelia Stephens.
Vietnam research project
According to the report, the team plan to run trials into UM’s unconventional treatment for back pain, and are running a $40,000 fundraising appeal in Australia and the UK to back it.
But, the program said, a study last year showed ‘the lack of high-quality evidence’ for the effectiveness of the UM treatment meant it was not possible to conduct the trials in Australian hospitals.
Instead they will be run in Vietnam, where the group recently ran a retreat.
University ‘let down’
Eminent medical educator Professor John Dwyer of University of NSW attacked the plan, and the group, telling the ABC program that the researchers had ‘let the university down badly in their fervour for promoting the benefits of Universal Medicine’s approach to treatments, which have no basis in science [and] couldn’t possibly be effective.’
‘These people are in a position of giving undeserved credibility to the nonsense that’s coming out of Universal Medicine,’ he said.
He said there was ‘absolutely no evidence’ to back the so-called ‘esoteric’ techniques devised by Mr Benhayon, ‘which he claims can help people with a myriad of different conditions’.
‘To put yourself in the hands of this group is to really risk your health and wellbeing,’ Professor Dwyer told the program.
Professor Dwyer has described the group as a ‘dangerous cult’.
UM denies it is a cult, saying online that ‘interestingly, professionals from the health industry represent a disproportionately higher element of [its] student body’.