Urologist Arrested for Attacks on Chinese Whistleblowers

By: 
Hao Xin
2010-09-23 11:00
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BEIJING—The police bureau here announced Tuesday evening that they have detained the suspected mastermind behind assaults on China's science misconduct watchdog Fang Shimin (aka Fang Zhouzi) and journalist Fang Xuanchang. (The two Fangs are not related.)

Earlier on 21 September, police detained Xiao Chuanguo, chief urology surgeon at the Tongji Hospital affiliated with Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, after Xiao returned from a trip to Argentina. According to a Beijing police report published online, Xiao believed that the Fangs' muckraking investigation of his academic achievements resulted in his failure to be elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Chinese media have reported that, according to a police briefing, Xiao paid about $15,000 to a distant relative, who allegedly arranged the assaults on Fang Xuanchang in June and Fang Zhouzi in August. Police took the relative and two accomplices into custody earlier this month.

The bone of contention between Xiao and the Fangs is a surgical procedure Xiao developed that he claimed can help patients with spinal cord injury and spina bifida to restore some control over bladder and bowl movements. After seeing material supporting Xiao's nomination as member of CAS in 2005, Fang Zhouzi asserted on his Web site, New Threads, that Xiao's procedure was not nearly as internationally famous as Xiao claimed and alleged that Xiao exploited the Chinese public's inability to access information in English to inflate his achievement. Xiao sued Fang for libel in a Wuhan court and won in 2006, but attempts to sue Fang in Beijing courts failed.

Last December, while working for the Chinese biweekly Science News, Fang Xuanchang edited a series of investigative reports on Xiao's procedure, which has been performed on thousands of Chinese patients, according to Xiao. Before the Ministry of Health in May 2009 issued regulations banning the clinical application of unproven and controversial medical procedures such as stem cell therapy, some Chinese hospitals peddled experimental procedures to make more money. It's not clear whether Xiao's procedure falls in the banned category, but no clinical trials have been conducted in China to prove its efficacy. Many prospective patients were enticed by the touted 85% success rate. Since publication of the investigative reports, however, "the number of patients seeking treatment has fallen sharply," says Jia Hepeng, editor-in-chief of Science News.

The procedure also caught the attention of Kenneth Peters, director of urology research at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, who launched a phase II clinical trial at his hospital (see also an Associated Press report). Trial results have not been published. Peters also obtained two grants from the National Institute of Health to study the safety and efficacy of the procedure for treating spina bifida patients. According to a description in his grant proposal, preliminary results show that seven out of nine patients who received the treatment have shown improvements. Peters did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Xiao could not be reached for comment. His employer, HUST, yesterday issued an online statement that said the university was shocked by the police investigation into Xiao's alleged crime of intentional injury to others. The statement says that the university will follow the case closely and take appropriate action once the judicial system renders its verdict.

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