The world is in the middle of the Corona virus pandemic, with no end and no solution in sight. Public life stopped, all travel ended, borders closed, many counties even imposed curfews. Thousands have died already, infections rise and rise, medical personnel works day and night to save lives, while those in low-pay “unskilled” jobs keep our society and civilization functioning.
Scientists not involved in COVID-19 research were first banned from their precious conferences and now from their labs altogether. Certain academics however use the opportunity to try to sell their bunk pseudoscience as a miracle cure for COVID-19. Thomas Webster is one of those, supported by his Northeastern University.
In related news, Elisabeth Bik recently discussed a bizarre paper from China where COVID-19 patients were allegedly cured by the Communist Party-recommended concoction of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The publisher Elsevier apparently decided the paper was not fraudulent plagiarism, and is instead prepared to issue a correction by re-labelling the case report as literature review.
In yet another case, Bik spotted a paper offering proprietary “stem cells” for COVID-19 cures. Leng et al Aging & Disease 2020 claims to have treated 7 COVID-19 patients with “allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell candidate Ryoncil (remestemcel-L, a product of the Australian biotech Mesoblast)” and to have cured them of COVID-19, it even made some biotech news. The 38 authors are mostly Chinese, but sport affiliation with 20 different institutes in 10 countries. Rutgers University stem cell scientist Martin Grumet points to this clinical trial and calls for “compassionate use” of Ryoncil to “save lives” of COVID-19 patients worldwide.
Thomas Webster, chemistry professor on an endowed chair at the Northeastern University in Boston, USA, is not Chinese, although he did establish a lucrative collaboration with the Wenzhou Medical University to develop… picotechnology. Apparently, nanotechnology is so yesterday, Webster is already further, as his university announced while salivating over Chinese cash:
“The diameter of one strand of human hair, Webster said, is about 80,000 nanometers. Picotechnology, he explained, involves research on an even smaller scale.
The two fields can also be leveraged in different ways, he noted. Nanomaterials are built atom by atom, while picoscience focuses on the electrons circulating within the atom, and changing how these electrons are distributed can produce interesting properties, he said.
Webster described one potential medical application of picotechnology, as it relates to this partnership. One problem with intraocular devices, he said, is that bacteria stick to them. But exciting the electrons with infrared wavelengths could cause the bacteria to instead be repelled away.
“Picotechnology can get pretty technical,” he said, “but it’s all about the electrons.”
Outside of the shrivelled brains of certain protagonists of this press release there is no such research field as “picotechnology”, certainly not of the kind Webster describes it. Unless the Northeastern professor made picotechnology up to get his snout into yet another Chinese money trough. Which explanation sounds better, crookery or stupidity?
From his own public appearances, it seems Webster has a gigantic ego but little clue of virology, microbiology, physiology or any biology or medicine whatsoever. In fact, the chemistry professor seems to struggle even with basic chemistry. What Webster is definitely an expert in, is bullshittery. Next to money from China, there are also contracts with the US Department of Defence, as Northeastern University’s press releases proudly proclaim.
Webster boasts an h-index of 88. How he got there? One trick is to publish in predatory journals, having visited some predatory conferences. Webster is eager to serve as active scammer, pardon, editorial board member for OMICS (here and here), he also seems to relish travelling to OMICS scamferences. But of course other scamference organisers are just as appreciated. Heck, Webster will even organise and chair the events, no problem:
Another easy tool to boost your paper output and citation index is to publish in your own journal. At the current count, Webster placed 170 papers in some obscure Dove Press outlet he founded in 2006 (“pioneering the open-access format“, costs to publish: $2500). In the first 2 month of 2020 alone, the Editor-in-Chief placed 6 papers in his own International Journal of Nanomedicine.
“In my case, this directly affected our ability to fight antibiotic resistant infections, develop improved implantable sensors, and cure cancer since several students from around the world who applied for and received fellowships from their host country to work in my lab, were no longer permitted to complete what promised to be ground breaking research.”
Ground breaking research? Not so fast. Webster’s yet another trick to boost his publication record and h-index is… you can guess it.
Don’t expect his Northeastern University to wonder how this nano-fabricated method to cure meningitis is supposed to work. And because all this copy-paste webstering appeared in his own journal, the Editor-in-Chief Webster is in charge of investigating his own papers in International Journal of Nanomedicine, for amateurish data manipulation.
Curing diseases with nanoparticles is boring routine for Webster the Nano-Wizard. On CNN he was presented in 2015 as a genius whose nano-magic dispels not only cancer but also ebola. With star-shaped nanoparticles, as Webster explained:
“A star shape has a lot more surface area, so they can kill cancer cells faster than a nanosphere because they heat up faster.”
Webster is actually quite open that his nano-bullshit is not much different from TCM quackery:
“It’s almost like the approach in Eastern medicine, where we’re looking for natural nanomaterials, not synthetic ones, like gold and silver“
Cancer therapy bullshittery is a classic, only the most desperate and terminally ill of patients fall for that, which is apparently why certain doctors and biomedical scientists so enjoy promising phony cures.
Dr Webster sure loves to jump into every public health emergency to autoerotically wave his magic nano-rod. In 2016, during the Zika virus outbreak in USA, Webster featured in Boston Magazine:
“His team’s most promising project, he says, involves creating nanoparticles that can attach to the Zika cells, preventing them from multiplying inside the body.
“By simply attaching them [to the viral cells], we keep them from entering cells, and we keep them from being active to replicate inside of cells,” he explains.
Plus, unlike vaccines, which can’t keep up with viral mutations, Webster’s technique—which he says could be ready for clinical use in about five years, if not sooner—could adapt to any form of the disease it finds in the body. That means the particles could treat the Zika strains of 2020 just as well as the Zika strains of 2016.
“The influenza mutates every year, and that’s why we never have a 100 percent good flu vaccine,” Webster explains. “In our nanoparticle approach, it doesn’t matter, really, how it mutates. We can basically use that nanoparticle to always attach to that virus no matter what the stage of mutation is.”
After the Zika epidemic, Northeastern University suggested in 2019 to treat antibiotics-resistant bacteria like MRSA with his homeopathy-inspired nanoparticles. Webster offered some Hahnemann-style philosophy of treating same with same, but diluted:
“These particles that are made by living organisms are actually better than those that are made through synthetic chemistry,” says Webster, who is also the Art Zafiropoulo Chair in Engineering at Northeastern. “They can selectively target the bacteria or cell that made them.”
The Northeastern University loves their nano-magic fantasy goblin, as I understand they are prepared to bite off everyone’s head to protect him. No low is too low for this academic institution, the university’s PR office keeps issuing Websterian celebratory press releases on a conveyor belt.
This is why now Webster and Northeastern seized the current COVID-19 opportunity, in a situation of a global public health disaster with thousands of deaths worldwide. A global pandemic lock-down where the last thing everyone needs, is ignorant bullshit and greedy self-promotion by narcissistic quacks, even and especially from US universities.
Yet here we are. A March 4 press release of the Northeastern University announced to cure COVID-19 with Webster’s nano-fabrications and even claimed that their bearded wizard advises the US authority CDC on COVID-19 therapies:
“Northeastern chemical engineering professor Thomas Webster, who specializes in developing nano-scale medicine and technology to treat diseases, is part of a contingency of scientists that are contributing ideas and technology to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
The idea of using nanoparticles, Webster says, is that the virus behind COVID-19 consists of a structure of a similar scale as his nanoparticles.”
It gets even dumber. This is not just talking out of your arse, this is a US university trying to sabotage the global effort to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic with illiterate pseudoscientific idiocy, in a thinly veiled attempt to cash in:
“Webster is proposing particles of similar sizes that could attach to SARS-CoV-2 viruses, disrupting their structure with a combination of infrared light treatment. That structural change would then halt the ability of the virus to survive and reproduce in the body.
“You have to think in this size range,” says Webster, who is Art Zafiropoulo Chair in Engineering at Northeastern. “In the nanoscale size range, if you want to detect viruses, if you want to deactivate them.”
Finding and neutralizing viruses with nanomedicine is at the core of what Webster and other researchers call theranostics, which focuses on combining therapy and diagnosis. Using that approach, his lab has specialized in nanoparticles to fight the microbes that cause influenza and tuberculosis.
“It’s not just having one approach to detect whether you have a virus and another approach to use it as a therapy,” he says, “but having the same particle, the same approach, for both your detection and therapy.”
You thought this is the final low from Webster? Nope.
“Unlike other novel drugs with large molecular structures, nanoparticles are so small that they can move through our body without disrupting other functions, such as those of the immune system.
“Almost like a surveyor, they can go around your bloodstream,” Webster says. “They can survey your body much easier and under much longer times and try and detect viruses.”
To do all that, the CDC needs to know the specifics about what kind of structure is needed to neutralize SARS-CoV-2, Webster says. That information isn’t public yet.
“You have to identify what we need to put in our nanoparticle to attract it to that virus,” he says. “The CDC must know that, because they’ve developed a kit that can determine if you have [COVID-19], versus influenza, or something else.”
This is an American biomedicine “expert”, described by the English rag Daily Express as “Coronavirus researcher”, who does not even know what a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is. The standard lab technology which is used among many, many other things, to genotype infections, including in COVID-19 test.
This is how the outrageous press release ends. Let’s hope Webster will never be allowed to test his nanotechnology or any living organism, never mind patients.
“Because of their size, nanoparticles are pervasive (too pervasive, maybe) to seep through other parts of the body. To reduce that risk, Webster’s lab has focused on using iron oxide. Particles of that make up entail chemistry that is already natural to our bodies and diets.
“Even if you have a viral infection, you need more iron, because you could be anemic depending on how bad the infection is,” Webster says. “We’re actually developing these nanoparticles out of chemistries that can help your health.”
And, he says, iron-based nanoparticles could be directed with magnetic fields to target specific organs in the body, such as lungs and other areas susceptible to respiratory complications after contracting viral infections. That too, Webster says, is something that you couldn’t do with a novel synthetic molecule.
“Really, what this all means is that we just have to do the studies to show those iron nanoparticles are not going into the brain or the kidney,” Webster says, “that these nanoparticles are going exactly where you want them to go to the virus.”
This person was elected in 2019 as Overseas Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine. At least this was what Northeastern University orgiastically announced.
I have been privy to an email Webster sent in the recent days. He mentions that
“I just learned pending a provost investigation, our lab is suspended until May 7th. The letter I received also says that any current PhD students will be assigned to Dean Jackie Isaacs […] I do not think I can supervise you during this suspension period“.
But he remains busy, approving corrections for utter fraud he published as coauthor, e.g. in the Elsevier journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine (where Webster is associate editor). Elisabeth Bik has a take on this.
Some of these corrections, like this equivalent of a raised middle finger, at ACS Advanced Materials & Interfaces (a society journal with maximal fraud tolerance), replace fake data with other fake data and declare:
Reader shared an iThenticate analysis of a review article published by Webster as last author: Mostafavi et al Bioelectricity 2020. It seems to suggest medium-to-heavy plagiarism from various sources. Including from Katerina Aifantis, what fun. The file is available here.
A paper with Webster as co-author (Zare et al 2021) was published on 1 March 2021. Webster’s only listed affiliation there is: “Applied Biotechnology Research Centre, Tehran Medical Science, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, MA, Iran”. I wrote Webster an email and received this auto-reply: “Thank you for your message. I am currently on a leave of absence. Should you require immediate assistance please contact Krista Robinette“
His institutional website at Northeastern University is still online, but is Webster still employed there?
An email sent yesterday (4 May 2021) by Rebecca Willits, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern University, to the faculty:
“I was informed this morning that Tom Webster has resigned from the university as of May 4, 2021 and wanted to pass this information along to the faculty and staff.“
If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Your generous patronage of my journalism will be most appreciated!