Australia University of Queensland launches investigation after researchers promote Universal Medicine 'cult'

03:26  16 april  2018
03:26  16 april  2018 Source:   ABC News

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University of Queensland Faculty of Medicine in Australia. UQ is a great school in terms of being internationally oriented for those who hope to work internationally after graduation. They give us exposure to a lot of different opportunities and the program is very involved and promotes

The University of Queensland 's Faculty of Medicine is an internationally recognised provider of world-class education and research . The research -intensive Faculty has a gross budget of almost 0 million, employs approximately 1000 continuing and fixed-term staff (headcount)

Universal Medicine was founded by Serge Benhayon.© ABC News Universal Medicine was founded by Serge Benhayon. Researchers who promoted an alleged cult and showcased its bizarre healing claims in published studies have embroiled one of Australia's top universities in an academic misconduct probe.

The University of Queensland (UQ) and two international medical journals are investigating alleged ethical violations in research around Universal Medicine (UM), an organisation based in Lismore in New South Wales, which touts the healing power of "esoteric breast massage" and other unproven treatments.

An ABC investigation can reveal three members of UQ's faculty of medicine have publicly advocated for the controversial group.

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Offering world-class teaching in Medicine , Public Health and Biomedical Sciences, as well as five leading clinical research institutes and centres, the Faculty of Medicine is positioned The University of Queensland Level 6, Oral Health Centre (Building) Herston Road, Herston, QLD , 4006 Australia.

The University of Queensland School of Medicine Ochsner Clinical School. The University of Queensland is one of Australia's finest medical schools. Founded in 1936, it is renowned globally as an award-winning research institution of excellence and rigor.

Founded by Serge Benhayon — a former bankrupt tennis coach with no medical qualifications who claims to be the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci — UM is a multi-million-dollar enterprise with 700 mostly women followers in 15 countries.

It is linked to Mr Benhayon's Way of the Livingness religion, with UM followers urged to follow his strict lifestyle instructions from diet and sleep to sex.

Mr Benhayon's acolytes include Christoph Schnelle, a UQ faculty of medicine researcher who was the lead author of three articles on UM health practices.

He and eight co-authors are now under scrutiny for an alleged failure to declare their roles in what has been described as "a dangerous cult" by eminent medical educator Professor John Dwyer from the University of New South Wales.

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The ABC has obtained video of four of the researchers publicly advocating UM practices, including two doctors.

Two more researchers are presenters at the Benhayon-founded College of Universal Medicine.

The others are a naturopath and a psychologist who practice at UM's Brisbane clinic, and a director of its UK-based charity.

'Unbelievable conflict of interest'

Professor John Dwyer, a former head of immunology at Yale University in the US, said the researchers had "an unbelievable conflict of interest" as "apostles for Universal Medicine, heavily involved in the organisation and the teachings of the group".

"[They] have 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, couldn't possibly be effective and really represent a pre-scientific approach to how the body works..." Professor Dwyer said.

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A second public advocate of UM within UQ's faculty of medicine is an associate lecturer, Dr Amelia Stephens.

The Clayfield-based GP is listed in a research team with Mr Schnelle to conduct future clinical trials of UM back pain treatments.

They are running a public appeal to raise $40,000 for proposed trials in Australia and the United Kingdom.

However, one of the studies last year said "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.

The researchers plan to run trials in two hospitals in Vietnam, where the group last month held a retreat.

Professor Dwyer said it was "fascinating just to see the range of individuals who can be attracted to cults and this sort of thinking and obviously this can affect a number of registered health professionals".

He said they were registered on a "promise to practise evidence-based medicine" and "to desert that and promote this cultish behaviour is highly reprehensible".

UM denies it is a cult, saying online that "interestingly, professionals from the health industry represent a disproportionately higher element of [its] student body".

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'Wishy-washy' penalties imposed

Health authorities have reprimanded some UM-linked doctors, including another former UQ associate, medical lecturer Sam Kim, and allied health professionals "but they've been very wish-washy type penalties," Professor Dwyer said.

"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 said.

Mr Schnelle was also named in a court case as a financial planner to a terminally ill UM follower who gave $1.4 million to Mr Benhayon.

Her children unsuccessfully challenged her will.

Journal looks at withdrawing academic articles

The Canadian-based Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) is considering the extreme step of withdrawing the UM-related articles from publication.

JMIR's editorial director told UQ's office of research integrity on March 6 that "the omission of this conflict of interest, which appears to be highly significant in this case, is a clear violation of our policies".

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The University of Queensland (UQ) offers postgraduate coursework programs (graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, coursework masters, coursework masters [advanced] and professional doctorates) and research higher degrees UQ's Faculty of Medicine is driven, dedicated, and duty-bound.

More jobs at The University of Queensland . AIBN is committed to supporting the career growth of female researchers and have a number of initiatives to support females in developing and achieving a fulfilling research career at the institute.

"There was clearly some conflict of interest which should have been declared but wasn't," the editorial director said on March 9.

The editor pressed for an update on the UQ investigation on March 22.

"We feel that if the paper should be retracted it should be done soon and we would preferably like to have the backing of UQ if we take that action," he wrote.

UK-based BioMed Central is also investigating an article it ran where seven of the researchers stated they were "insiders in that they attend Universal Medicine events" but did not receive "any funding, reimbursement, instruction or direction of any kind from Universal Medicine or its affiliates".

UQ ethics committees approved the studies but researchers must fully disclose conflicts of interest.

UQ confirms investigation into alleged 'conflicts of interest'

UQ pro vice-chancellor of research Professor Mark Blows confirmed the university was investigating alleged "undeclared conflicts of interest by some researchers".

He said the university was "recognised as a research institution of international standing that takes research integrity extremely seriously".

"When investigations into allegations of errors or research misconduct are substantiated, the university notifies relevant academic journals, funding agencies and issues public statements as appropriate," Professor Blows said.

Mr Schnelle denied a request for an interview, while Mr Benhayon, Dr Stephens and the other researchers did not respond to requests for comment by the ABC.

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