Penthouse Retrospective

by Gary Null, Leonard Steinman, Terry Leder, Kalev Pehme Originally Published: July, 1980

Cancer Politics – Part Five | 40 Years Ago This Month

McGrady invited the skeptics, including Sol Spiegelman, the present head of the Oncology Institute at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, to repeat the experiment with two ampules that Friedman and Burton had left behind. With two newspaper reporters in the room, the five refused to inject the serum into the remaining mice. Had the injection worked again in the hands of others, the reporters would have had an even more sensational story. Even so, the publicity for Burton and Friedman grew. Late in 1966, Dr. Richard P. Mason, ACS’s senior vice-president of research, visited Burton and Friedman at St. Vincent’s. According to Burton, Mason told them, as well as Rottino, that they had made their contribution and that they could receive a grant if they would give their techniques to the NCI and to Sloan-Kettering.

“We figured it was going to be lifetime fellowships-our entire life’s work handed over,” recalls Burton. Mason, however, offered only a one-year $15,000 grant for the entire team. Burton: “And we were stunned. What is this? Two Ph.D.’s, an M.D. We have a mouse colony-and you’re going to give us one. year? But then what happens next? ‘Don’t worry, when this is repeated, everybody will come knocking on your door.’ Big joke. Friedman threw him out.”


Within the medical research world, publishing the results of experiments is more than a way of communicating progress to other scientists and doctors so that they can reproduce the results for themselves; it is also a way to acquire prestige and legitimacy in the profession. For the most part, journals are sponsored by important institutions and have editorial boards comprised of respected professionals in the field. The inability to publish is scientific exile. To publish means position, status, and a way of obtaining grants.

Faced with considerable interest on the part of the press and others but unable to show any scientific papers after the 1963 New York Academy of Sciences debacle, Burton, Rottino, and Friedman made determined efforts to get published. Rottino, for example, attempted to publish findings in extract form for annual conferences of cancer scientists in 1967 — and was rejected. Rejection dogged every submission of theirs for the next three years.

The Burton-Friedman-Rottino team had concluded a milestone experiment on a large sample of cancerous mice. The experiment and its results were described in exhaustive detail in a paper entitled “Long-Term-Induced Remissions: Mammary Adena-Carcinoma in the C3HT Mouse.” The paper was submitted directly to the editor of Cancer Research, Dr. Michael Shimkin. The experiment proved that there was no foundation to the criticism that the effects of the team’s tumor-shrinking serum were illusory or transient or that the tumors grew back after a while, that the mice eventually died of their cancers, or that the serum was only a gimmick. The experiment showed that in most of the cancerous C3HT mice injected with the serum the tumors did not grow back, that the remissions lasted the lifetime of the mouse, and that 23 months elapsed before the last of the mice, cancer-free since the induced remissions, died finally of old age, without a trace of cancer.

According to Burton, independent critical review of scientific papers submitted to journals is done by editorial or advisory-board members who may request the experimenter to incorporate additional data in the paper; if in their opinion, the experiment does not deserve publication, the paper is returned with pro forma thanks. After publication of the paper, anybody is entitled to reproduce the experiment as described. But it is highly unorthodox for any person associated with the journal to attempt to replicate the experiment in advance of publication. When, in violation of this precept, reproduction nevertheless occurs, the violator is suspected of questionable scientific conduct.

Not having heard from the publication for some eight months, the team decided to call the editor. They were stunned by what they learned. According to Burton, the editor told them that he considered their paper of such importance that his laboratories were now trying to repeat their results. Burton says that the editor was asked, “What is to prevent you, as editor, from putting your name on the paper, either saying that you reproduced our work or that we reproduced your work?” To which Shimkin allegedly replied, “You gotta trust me.” Unfortunately, the editor had done little to warrant their trust. The paper’s return was demanded under threat of a lawsuit, and the editor finally acquiesced. Eventually, the obstacles interposed to publishing became so frustrating for Burton that he decided to forgo it, thus giving up the orthodoxy he had attempted for so long to attain.


In 1970 and 1971 Burton and Friedman assisted Dr. Rottino in his treatment of patients at St. Vincent’s with the antitumor serum. “Then Rottino came to us in 1972 and said, ‘We’re going to have to stop treating patients.’ Why? ‘They [the local cancer establishment] blew the whistle on it.’” Rottino reportedly told Burton and Friedman that St. Vincent’s was not going to jeopardize $3.5 to $4 million in other grants because of opposition to their project by the cancer establishment.

At this time a terminally ill breast-cancer patient, the wife of a Long Island psychologist, was being treated with the Burton-Friedman technique. The psychologist, Martin Goldstone, was friendly with a prominent Great Neck rabbi, Robert S. Widom, and together with Burton and Friedman, the Immunology Research Foundation was formed. Initial funding was raised with the help of another businessman, Lionel Teicher, and by the fall of 1973 the center was in quiet operation.

Of all the things that should be above petty egotism, you might think pushing a cure for debilatating disease might qualify. Yet Cancer Politics thrives, sadly even 40 years after this article.

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