[Editor’s note: This is an extra bonus post that has appeared elsewhere. This week’s post will appear in several hours.]
A mysterious apparent suicide and conspiracy theories
Three weeks ago, those of us who combat the antivaccine movement noted the then-very recent death of an autism quack and antivaccinationist (but I repeat myself) who’s been big in the “autism biomed” movement for a long time and was a regular fixture at autism quackfests like Autism ONE for many years. I’m referring, of course, to Jeff Bradstreet, whose body was found in a river on June 19, dead from a gunshot wound to the chest that appeared to have been self-inflicted. It didn’t take long (less than a week) for the antivaccine movement to start speculating about conspiracies in which Bradstreet had been “bumped off” by big pharma, as represented by comments like these:
- “It’s obvious that he was deliberately killed off because he spoke out against federal deceit, CDC, etc and was a life-saver for many like myself.”
- “He did NOT kill himself! He was murdered for who he was speaking against, what he knew, and what he was doing about it. He was brilliant kind compassionate doctor with amazing abilities to heal. He was taken. Stopped. Silenced.”
- “If this does not stink to high heaven I don’t know what does. A fisherman finds his body with a gunshot wound that appears to be a self inflicted. Just how the hell would they know that. Amazingly they happen to find the gun in the river. Wow that is some amazing detective work.”
- “What a tragic loss of a beloved doctor. I pray the authorities get to the bottom of this story…it seems highly unlikely that a Christian man would shoot himself in thy chest and conveniently fall into a river.”
Let me just say one thing. I understand, to some extent, what the Bradstreet family is going through. My family has not escaped without having had one of its members commit suicide. Although it was someone I wasn’t particularly close to, he was very close to family members I am close to. So I understand better than most the pain they are going through. They do have my sympathy. I’ve been there.
That being said, it appears that more information is coming out about what happened in the days leading to Bradstreet’s death. It’s even started to filter out to major media outlets, as in this story published yesterday in the Washington Post, “The mysterious death of a doctor who peddled autism ‘cures’ to thousands“:
James Jeffrey Bradstreet was one of the world’s most famous — or infamous — physicians. He believed vaccines caused autism. He even testified so before Congress. Twice.
But he didn’t just rail against Big Pharma. He also tried to beat it.
Bradstreet offered thousands of autism patients around the globe controversial treatments. He claimed he could effectively cure kids of their autism, cancer and other maladies simply by injecting them with protein shots.
When Bradstreet’s body was found last month in the Rocky Broad River in mountainous North Carolina with a bullet wound to the chest, therefore, friends, family members and patients pointed fingers at drug corporations. The FDA. Anyone but Bradstreet.
“He did not kill himself!” one patient’s parent wrote online.
“May God have vengeance quickly on the evil doers who murdered him!” wrote another.
From this story, we also learn that Bradstreet’s family had quickly raised $33,000 to investigate his death and had used the money to hire private investigators. I rather suspect that, like John F. Kennedy, the assassination conspiracy theories surrounding his death will never die, although they will only be known to the dark underbelly of the antivaccine movement and autism quackery.
What really happened? The FDA was closing in.
Conspiracy theories aside, we’re finally learning what appears to be the event that might have pushed Bradstreet to kill himself. It turns out that the day before he apparently killed himself, his office was the target of a federal search warrant in relation to his use of an unapproved drug to treat autism, GcMAF. Readers were kind enough to supply me with a copy of the search warrant. Basically, the warrant gave permission to search the Bradstreet Wellness Center in Buford, GA for “records, documents and items” related to:
- All Globulin component Macrophage Activating Factor (GCMAF), GC-Globulin, and/or any other products or component substances thereof that constitute misbranded drugs under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
- All records, in whatever form, associated with or pertaining to the acquisition, possession, distribution of unapproved drugs, prescriptions, and/or health care products. The records to be seized include those related to the brokering, ordering, purchasing, shipping, sale, and distribution of any drugs, including business journals and ledgers; tax records, and related work papers; purchase and sales records; communications; bank and financial records; shipment/transport records; supplier and customer records; regulatory compliance records and communications with federal, state, and local authorities; and any unopened mail addressed to or from the companies mentioned therein.
The warrant also authorized authorities to search for “all books, records, and documents” identifying current and former employees, any and all electronic, digital, and paper records relating to GcMAF, computers and peripherals, financial records, and more. You get the idea. As the news story I referenced above put it, whether or not any doubt remains over whether Bradstreet did indeed commit suicide, it’s clear that his use of dubious autism treatments had finally caught up with him after all these years. He was definitely in the FDA’s sights for his autism quackery. Strangely enough (to me) and frustratingly, it was not all his previous quackery that finally led to what one could only have hoped, had Bradstreet not killed himself, the beginning of the end of his empire of quackery and his taking up residence in a federal penitentiary. Remember, this is a guy who peddled hyperbaric oxygen chambers, chelation therapy, bogus stem cell treatments, hormone injections, secretin, and just about every sort of “autism biomed” quackery you can imagine, and then some. Let’s just put it this way. Bradstreet has in the past advocated exorcism to treat autism, although in the Autism Omnibus hearing, where he appeared as an expert witness for the complainants, he denied ever having performed exorcisms for autism. Yet it was GcMAF that finally led to the federal government taking substantive action.
GcMAF: A “miracle cure” for everything from cancer to autism
So what is GcMAF? It’s a protein that is normally found in the blood of healthy people. It is an immunomodulatory protein, in that its activity affects the function of the immune system. The glycoprotein (a protein with sugar molecules attached) GcMAF results from sequential deglycosylation of the vitamin D-binding protein (the Gc protein), and the resulting protein is felt to be a macrophage activating factor (MAF). MAFs are a class of protein known as a lymphokine, and they regulate the expression of antigens on the surface of macrophages. One of their functions is to “activate” macrophages, which can under the proper circumstances attack cancer cells. Of note, the production of GcMAF can be blocked by an enzyme called Nagalase (alpha-N-acetylgalactosaminidase), produced by many cancers, which led to its first incarnation in quackery as a “cure” for many cancers by Bill Sardi (remember him?) and Timothy Hubbell, based on dubious science and a clinical trial that didn’t show what its proponents claimed it did and was later retracted.
Bradstreet was a true believer in GcMAF as a cure for autism. For instance, check out this video of him promoting GcMAF as a cure for autism at the Treating Autism Conference at Brunel University in 2012:
He starts out as saying he’s been studying HIV and that’s what connected him up with GcMAF, claiming that he noted elevated Nagalase activity in autistic children, which presumably results in lowered GcMAF levels. This resulted in a paper based on 40 autistic children that he published in Autism Insights in which he claimed to have found elevated Nagalase levels in autistic children that were reduced by injecting GcMAF. While it is possible that GcMAF injections could decrease Nagalase levels if they were pathologically elevated it just doesn’t seem particularly plausible. What GcMAF injections could theoretically do is simply bypass the activity of Nagalase (which, remember, blocks the production of GcMAF) and lead to increased GcMAF levels. And ultimately Bradstreet also claimed improvement in autistic symptoms. Of course, this was a single-arm uncontrolled study, so it’s not particularly compelling evidence. It was also published in what was, before it was discontinued, in essence a vanity journal whose editorial board was packed with autism quacks, including Andrew Wakefield, Bryan Jepson, and Arthur Krigsman.
Another study with which Bradstreet was involved, claimed that GcMAF could normalize abnormal gene expression in the endocannabinoid system of autistic children, which, of course, links his work with claims made by some in the “autism biomed” movement that medical marijuana treats autism. Of course, this was an unrandomized, unblinded study (other than one person carrying out a lab test, specifically Ki67-ir profiles).
Based on highly dubious science and clinical data, Bradstreet was an enthusiastic backer of GcMAF, working with David Noakes, the head of Immuno Biotech:
During the same U.K. trip, Bradstreet and Noakes made what was essentially a promotional video for Immuno Biotech and its brand of GcMAF, called First Immune.
“I’m here with Dr. Jeffrey Bradstreet from the U.S.A., the autism expert in the First Immune GcMAF laboratories,” Noakes said on camera. “Dr. Bradstreet has been using our GcMAF for 18 months and we’d like to thank you for, I think you’ve treated 900 children now?”
“Not just children,” Bradstreet boasted. “So the spectrum of my patients with autism ranges from somewhere around 18 months to goodness, somewhere around close to 40. So we’ve treated many adults with autism as well as chronic fatigue patients, cancer patients. So we’ve found application for a fairly broad number of disorders for the product.”
“Dr. Jeffrey Bradstreet has now treated over 2,000 autistic children with GcMAF and the results are well established,” according to one of Noakes’s Web sites. “85% improve, if only a little, and of them 15% have their autism eradicated. In all 3,000 children have been treated with GcMAF with similar results.”
Internet chatrooms reveal how desperate parents were drawn to these promises like moths to a flame.
The discussion forum on Autism Web shows hundreds of parents of autistic children seeking out alternative methods of treating, or even “curing,” their kids.
“We are doing GcMAF injections through Bradstreet,” began one thread in August of 2011. “It has been 5 weeks. Each shot is $90 so I’m hoping we will see something big soon. I would love to hear from anyone else that has been doing the treatment for longer than us.”
Dozens responded. The replies varied from wary to ecstatic.
Of course, lots of quack treatments for autism and other conditions have enthusiastic testimonials to back them up. What are less commonly seen are the negative testimonials, and Bradstreet has those:
“We have completed 20 shots of GcMAF so far. I am still waiting for the wow that everyone talks about,” one person wrote. Even worse, they described side effects including “crying and pains in his chest and stomach at least for first 3 days after the shot.”
“We are doing GcMAF injections. I have not seen any gains at all,” another person wrote. “I have seen the worse behaviors and tantrums. So after spending $1,300 for no gains and living in hell I am done with this.”
Others described nasty viral or bacterial infections which flared up after starting their kids on GcMAF.
“It came to a point where we couldn’t tolerate it any more,” an angry parent wrote.
These negative testimonials ultimately got the British health authorities’ attention.
The end of a quack empire
The problems with Bradstreet’s quackery led an Irish woman named Fiona O’Leary to begin investigating First Immune and complaining to UK health authorities. Her efforts led the authorities to act. The First Immune GcMAF production facility in the UK was raided by British health authorities earlier this year. They found that the facility did not meet Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards and expressed concerns over the sterility of the medicine being produced and the equipment being used, leading to further concerns that the product could well be contaminated. More than 10,000 vials of GcMAF were seized and production was halted.
After O’Leary had complained to the FDA as well, four months later on June 18, the day before Bradstreet killed himself, the feds showed up at Bradstreet’s Buford, GA clinic, search warrant in hand. Had he been convicted Bradstreet could have faced up to 20 years in prison. Of course, we all know from a previous autism quackery conviction that Bradstreet would probably never have been jailed that long, given that sentences in these discussions are usually the maximum possible and seldom actually given under federal sentencing guidelines, but to see him in jail would have been sweet indeed, even if it were only for a couple of years. Antivaccinationists know that, which is why O’Leary has become a target of their wrath, with accusations of “murder” and not having a soul.
In any case, Bradstreet left, apparently fleeing to North Carolina, and drove three hours northeast to Lake Lure, NC, where he checked into a hotel. There he learned that a First Immune clinic run by Noakes had been shut down in an investigation of five deaths associated with GcMAF treatments. In fairness, it’s not clear whether the deaths were due to GcMAF or just terminal patients dying, but Swiss officials were on the trail as well. Hours after learning of this, Bradford disappeared. He wasn’t seen alive again. Although the investigation is not complete, authorities are satisfied that Bradstreet had committed suicide.
Yet the conspiracy theories continue:
“I know it was murder,” the Immuno Biotech CEO said. “Dr. Bradstreet stated what we all know: that the MMR vaccine causes autism,” repeating a claim often wielded by anti-vaccine activists that’s been totally debunked. “And he was an expert witness in many court cases in the U.S.A. providing testimony to that effect. MMR is a multibillion dollar vaccine and this [GcMFA] hurts the profits of the MMR drug companies and that is why he was killed.”
In a half-hour phone interview, Noakes told The Post that he was convinced a vaccine company killed Bradstreet to protect its profits from the wonder “cure” that is GcMFA.
“He was raided by the FDA the day before his murder so the murder is now dressed up to look like suicide,” Noakes claimed.
“Why would a doctor use a gun?” he continued. “A doctor wouldn’t use a gun at all. He’d use barbiturates or a cocktail of drugs which are easily available to him and take no effort.”
While it’s true that doctors who kill themselves are indeed more than twice as likely to use self-poisoning with drugs or other substances than the general population, they’re actually just as likely to use firearms, even in a population that doesn’t have many guns. In the gun-rich US, firearms are the most common method of physician suicide, being the method used for nearly half of physician suicides, only slightly less common than in the general population. So all the incredulous dismissals of the conclusion that Bradstreet killed himself, based on the belief that Bradstreet couldn’t have possibly killed himself with a gun because he’s a doctor and doctors don’t kill themselves that way, are complete nonsense based on misinformation about physician suicide. To cast doubt on suicide as a cause of Bradstreet’s death will require a lot more than a mistaken belief that doctors don’t kill themselves with firearms, because they do.
In reality, it’s clear that Jeff Bradstreet’s many years of applying his quackery to autistic children had finally—finally—caught up with him. I’m actually sorry that he killed himself, both for the pain it caused his family, but also because it means that Bradstreet ultimately escaped justice. It means he will never face a judge and jury for the many years he victimized autistic children with a wide variety of quackery. That saddens me, but I can still hope that Bradstreet’s co-conspirators face the justice he eluded.