Sunday, September 09, 2007

Tommy Thompson Isn't Microchipped

But, he's been on the board of the company that makes them, is a partner in a law firm that provided $1.2 million in legal services to the company that makes them, and was the head of the department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, as the FDA approved medical microchipping for humans. Oh, and microchipping had been linked to cancers in rodents well before the FDA approval process. AP articles are here and here, in case one of them disappears. I've archived one version of the article. If either link above gets broken or loses information, I'll publish a link. The article is long, but oh so worth a read. Some long excerpts:
But neither the company nor the regulators publicly mentioned this: A series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s, stated that chip implants had "induced" malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats. ...

Did the agency know of the tumor findings before approving the chip implants? The FDA declined repeated AP requests to specify what studies it reviewed.

The FDA is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, which, at the time of VeriChip's approval, was headed by Tommy Thompson. Two weeks after the device's approval took effect on Jan. 10, 2005, Thompson left his Cabinet post, and within five months was a board member of VeriChip Corp. and Applied Digital Solutions. He was compensated in cash and stock options.

Thompson, until recently a candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, says he had no personal relationship with the company as the VeriChip was being evaluated, nor did he play any role in FDA's approval process of the RFID tag. ...

"There's no way in the world, having read this information, that I would have one of those chips implanted in my skin, or in one of my family members," said Dr. Robert Benezra, head of the Cancer Biology Genetics Program at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Before microchips are implanted on a large scale in humans, he said, testing should be done on larger animals, such as dogs or monkeys. "I mean, these are bad diseases. They are life-threatening. And given the preliminary animal data, it looks to me that there's definitely cause for concern." ...

Dr. Cheryl London, a veterinarian oncologist at Ohio State University, noted: "It's much easier to cause cancer in mice than it is in people. So it may be that what you're seeing in mice represents an exaggerated phenomenon of what may occur in people."

Tens of thousands of dogs have been chipped, she said, and veterinary pathologists haven't reported outbreaks of related sarcomas in the area of the neck, where canine implants are often done. (Published reports detailing malignant tumors in two chipped dogs turned up in AP's four-month examination of research on chips and health. In one dog, the researchers said cancer appeared linked to the presence of the embedded chip; in the other, the cancer's cause was uncertain.)

Nonetheless, London saw a need for a 20-year study of chipped canines "to see if you have a biological effect." Dr. Chand Khanna, a veterinary oncologist at the National Cancer Institute, also backed such a study, saying current evidence "does suggest some reason to be concerned about tumor formations."

Meanwhile, the animal study findings should be disclosed to anyone considering a chip implant, the cancer specialists agreed.

To date, however, that hasn't happened. ...

And what of former HHS secretary Thompson?

When asked what role, if any, he played in VeriChip's approval, Thompson replied: "I had nothing to do with it. And if you look back at my record, you will find that there has never been any improprieties whatsoever."

FDA's Watson said: "I have no recollection of him being involved in it at all." VeriChip Corp. declined comment.

Thompson vigorously campaigned for electronic medical records and healthcare technology both as governor of Wisconsin and at HHS. While in President Bush's Cabinet, he formed a "medical innovation" task force that worked to partner FDA with companies developing medical information technologies.

At a "Medical Innovation Summit" on Oct. 20, 2004, Lester Crawford, the FDA's acting commissioner, thanked the secretary for getting the agency "deeply involved in the use of new information technology to help prevent medication error." One notable example he cited: "the implantable chips and scanners of the VeriChip system our agency approved last week."

After leaving the Cabinet and joining the company board, Thompson received options on 166,667 shares of VeriChip Corp. stock, and options on an additional 100,000 shares of stock from its parent company, Applied Digital Solutions, according to SEC records. He also received $40,000 in cash in 2005 and again in 2006, the filings show.

The Project on Government Oversight called Thompson's actions "unacceptable" even though they did not violate what the independent watchdog group calls weak conflict-of-interest laws.

"A decade ago, people would be embarrassed to cash in on their government connections. But now it's like the Wild West," said the group's executive director, Danielle Brian.

Thompson is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a Washington law firm that was paid $1.2 million for legal services it provided the chip maker in 2005 and 2006, according to SEC filings.

He stepped down as a VeriChip Corp. director in March to seek the GOP presidential nomination, and records show that the company gave his campaign $7,400 before he bowed out of the race in August.

In a TV interview while still on the board, Thompson was explaining the benefits — and the ease — of being chipped when an interviewer interrupted:

"I'm sorry, sir. Did you just say you would get one implanted in your arm?"

"Absolutely," Thompson replied. "Without a doubt."

"No concerns at all?"


But to date, Thompson has yet to be chipped himself.

It's worth noting that cancer researchers were concerned about microchipping when they learned about the rodent research. It's also worth noting that tens of thousands of dogs have been microchipped. Until a fully controlled, or even extensive retrospective study has been performed, any cancers, or lack of cancers (that the company points to) are anecdotal. Case studies do not make for good statistics.