CHICAGO (AP) — Parents who paid $285 for an experimental head-lice treatment for their children might be scratching their own heads, now that the doctor selling the stuff says it’s really a skin cleanser available for less than $10 a bottle at drug stores nationwide.
Dr. Dale Pearlman got widespread media attention and skepticism from some head-lice specialists last year when the journal Pediatrics published his study detailing results with a product he called Nuvo lotion.
He described it as a “dry-on suffocation-based pediculicide” and the first in a new class of nontoxic lotions for head lice. And as of yesterday, his Web site still said the costly treatment was available only at his Menlo Park, Calif., office.
But now, in a letter to the editor for release today in the December issue of Pediatrics, Dr. Pearlman says the treatment “was actually Cetaphil cleanser,” available over the counter nationwide and abroad, and made by a company with which he has nothing to do.
The letter “kind of blows the cover,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, a University of Minnesota medical ethicist, who called Dr. Pearlman’s failure until now to disclose his product’s true identity ethically troubling.
“He seems to imply that you could do it yourself” — something patients would have wanted to know, as well as doctors and Pediatrics’ peer reviewers who read last year’s study, Dr. Kahn said. “You don’t pull tricks on your colleagues and the peer review.”
Leonard Fleck, a Michigan State University medical ethicist, said Dr. Pearlman’s lack of disclosure in the study made it impossible for other scientists to test his methods.
“At the very least, there’s deception there for reasons of self-interest,” Mr. Fleck said.
Dr. Pearlman acknowledged that he didn’t disclose the information until now “because I wanted to get rich” and had hoped pharmaceutical companies would offer him money to further develop a Cetaphil-based product for head lice.
When that didn’t happen, he says, he decided to write the letter.
“I thought it would be so fun to make the world a better place by telling everyone about this,” Dr. Pearlman said in a phone interview.
He would not say how many patients had sought the treatment or how much money he had made on it since his study was published. He said they were given bottles of Nuvo and were told the treatment was part of his research, but were not told they were getting Cetaphil.
Dr. Pearlman said his treatment still should be considered novel because it uses Cetaphil in a new way, having patients apply the lotion and dry it with a hair dryer to suffocate head lice.
A spokeswoman for the California Medical Board said it has no public record of any disciplinary action against Dr. Pearlman.
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