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

03:26  16 april  2018
03:26  16 april  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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Universal Medicine , Serge Benhayon, conflicts of interest, investigation , Australia. Researchers who promoted an alleged cult and showcased its bizarre healing claims in published studies The University of Queensland (UQ) and two international medical journals are investigating alleged

ABC News: University of Queensland launches investigation after researchers promote Universal Medicine ‘ cult ’. ABC Radio report: University of Queensland academics linked to alleged cult (four minute radio report with Professor Dwyer interview).

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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Three University of Queensland researchers are now being investigated for publishing research in prestigious international academic journals promoting medically unproven Universal Medicine healing methods like “esoteric breast massage”.

The University of Queensland launches an investigation after a group of researchers who follow an alleged cult showcased bizarre healing claims in medical journals, including 'esoteric breast and ovary massage'.

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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" University of Queensland academics linked to alleged cult ". "' Cult ' Universal medicine practices promoted by researchers , UQ launches investigation ".

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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Three University of Queensland researchers are now being investigated for publishing research in prestigious international academic journals promoting medically unproven Universal Medicine healing methods like “esoteric breast massage”.

Give now. my.UQ. The University of Queensland . We turn high achieving students into world class health professionals and researchers who are passionate about creating change.

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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' Cult ' Universal medicine practices promoted by researchers , UQ launches investigation . Doctor found guilty over referrals. Queensland doctor with ties to ' cult ' stood down from industry body after sharing medical history.

IFL Science: Scientists Accused Of Promoting “ Cult ” That Touts “Esoteric Breast Massage” After Study Published. My blog on Universal Medicine Accountability with more background: News report : Universal Medicine in University of Queensland research controversy. *Comments are open on

'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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Researchers who promoted an alleged cult , showcasing its healing claims in studies, have embroiled an Australian university in an academic misconduct probe. ‘ Cult ’ scandal at University of Queensland . A Universal Medicine retreat in Vietnam.

UQ Medicine is the leading provider of education and research in Queensland and has the largest selection of medical programs in Australia. We were also ranked 30 in the world for Life Sciences and Medicine in the 2018 QS World University Rankings by Subject.

"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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