The COVID-19 science idiocy has a new contender: cheese. The dairy product is said to help with coronavirus infection because of its high content of Vitamin K, which is a fat-soluble, diet-acquired blood clotting factor. The authors are some clinicians from Nijmegen, and two thieves from Maastricht who defrauded their university over a… Vitamin K business.
The idiocy made news of course, including local TV, who spoke of “international breakthrough in the corona crisis”. Most prominently, the cheesy COVID-19 therapy and its authors were celebrated by the Guardian.
It was about this preprint:
Dofferhoff, A.S.; Piscaer, I.; Schurgers, L.J.; Walk, J.; van den Ouweland, J.M.; Hackeng, T.M.; de Jong, P.A.; Gosens, R.; Lux, P.; van Daal, H.; Maassen, C.; Maassen, E.G.; Kistemaker, L.E.; Vermeer, C.; Wouters, E.F.; Janssen, R. Reduced Vitamin K Status as A Potentially Modifiable Prognostic Risk Factor in COVID-19. MDPI Preprints (2020), doi: 10.20944/preprints202004.0457.v2.
The preprint itself never mentions cheese and comes along all serious and sciency. At least it’s not about Vitamin D and COVID-19 which can easily slip into racism. The leads authors of the Vitamin K preprint are the internist Anton Dofferhoff and the pulmonologist Rob Janssen, both at the Canisius-Wilhelmina Hospital, Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The clinic issued a press release, which was for some reason now deleted.
134 Covid-19 patients and 184 “historical controls” were studied, because the authors felt that COVID-19 might be associated with lower Vitamin K. They then postulated that it is Vitamin K which is needed to survive the coronavirus infection and conclude with
“A trial should assess whether […] vitamin K administration improves Covid-19 outcomes.”
A weird idea, especially since one main problem with COVID-19 are the lung embolisms, blood clots in the tiny lung capillaries which can lead to inability to uptake oxygen and thus to suffocation. Adding more blood coagulants might not be such a good idea, this is why it is unlikely Dr Janssen will get his way with a clinical trial. But Janssen explained why a blood clotting factor is still not a problem at all in a disease which lethality is caused by blood clots:
“Vitamin K plays a role in clotting blood, but it also plays a role in protecting the elastic fibers in the lungs. Corona causes massive inflammation in the lungs, damaging the elastic fibers that allow us to breathe. In response, your body tries to make more protective protein for those fibers, but needs vitamin K for that. If you don’t have that, you’re missing that protection, so you’re more at risk.“
Instead of being ignored or at least laughed at, the cheesy cure by Janssen and colleagues made it into The Guardian. And this is where the cheese finally got served. As a very bad journalist, I love press releases and newspaper reports, because this is where certain scientists really open up and say what their research really aims to prove, instead of hiding behind complex scientific formulations.
The Guardian reported on 5 June under the rubric “Medical research”:
Vitamin K found in some cheeses could help fight Covid-19, study suggests
Scientists in Netherlands explore possible link between deficiency and Covid-19 deaths
Janssen was quoted:
“We are in a terrible, horrible situation in the world. We do have an intervention which does not have any side effects, even less than a placebo. There is one major exception: people on anti-clotting medication. It is completely safe in other people.
My advice would be to take those vitamin K supplements. Even if it does not help against severe Covid-19, it is good for your blood vessels, bones and probably also for the lungs.
We have [vitamin] K1 and K2. K1 is in spinach, broccoli, green vegetables, blueberries, all types of fruit and vegetables. K2 is better absorbed by the body. It is in Dutch cheese, I have to say, and French cheese as well.“
Dr Janssen then discusses that Japanese stinky and slimy delicacy natto also works, citing personal communications with another scholar:
“I have worked with a Japanese scientist in London and she said it was remarkable that in the regions in Japan where they eat a lot of natto, there is not a single person to die of Covid-19; so that is something to dive into, I would say.”
Mind you, The Guardian brings tall this unironically. The natto debate prompted Twitter suggestions on social distancing:
The manuscript has been now submitted for peer review, while the authors announced a clinical trial with Vitamin K on COVID-19 patients, for which they seek funding. I suggest instead of Big Pharma, they should try Dutch cheese industry, the Big Cheese.
As a prospective COVID-19 cure, this cheesy Vitamin K study will sure go great with red wine, the source of the magic drug resveratrol, peddled by David Sinclair. In this regard, at least two of the coauthors of Janssen’s preprint are incidentally in the business of selling supplements also (Vitamin K in fact).
Janssen did his study in collaboration with the Cardiovascular Research Institute Maastricht, and its scientists Leon Schurgers and Cees Vermeer. Those names ring an alarm bell, the two gentlemen are namely fraudsters who stole public money while running a Vitamin K business. That did not make it into Guardian, because The Guardian stands for “independent, investigative journalism”.
Read about these two coauthors, as reported last year by the journalist Wendy Dagens in Observant:
Fraud in UM spin-off VitaK
MAASTRICHT. Two Maastricht University researchers, professor Leon Schurgers and professor Cees Vermeer (the latter has by now retired) have apparently enriched themselves through the university subsidiary company VitaK. De Limburger and De Groene Amsterdammer in collaboration with the Investico platform reported elaborately on this news at the end of June. André Postema, former vice president of Maastricht University, is supposed to have known of the fraud. As a result of the publication, the present Executive Board is carrying out a fact-finding investigation.
Set up in 2001, the VitaK company, headed by biochemist Cees Vermeer, emerged as a knowledge and research centre in the field of vitamin K. Leon Schurgers had done a work placement with Vermeer, did his PhD with him, and was regarded as his intended successor.
But in 2008, Vermeer became aware of fraudulent payments to Schurgers. He had apparently received 70 thousand euro on his bank account from the Norwegian pharmaceutical company NattoPharma, VitaK’s largest client at the time. Apparently, fake invoices had been sent from a non-existent company. Vermeer reported the matter by e-mail to his boss, Jan Cobbenhagen, who was director of Universiteit Maastricht Holding at the time: “I know I should actually fire Leon immediately,” says the e-mail, published by the De Groene. Nevertheless, Vermeer backs his heir-apparent. Schurgers is not fired, he does not receive a fine and no police report is filed. De Groene: “The greatest punishment is that his researcher [Schurgers] may never become the managing director of VitaK.” Schurgers is transferred to the faculty. A transfer that only actually occurred in January 2011. He was appointed professor at the UM on 1 December 2017.
But the matter is even more appalling, according to the research journalists. Patents were apparently passed on to Schurgers, earning him a hefty sum later on.
Then there is the bonus of half a million euro that was given to Vermeer. He received this after his retirement; with the aid of the university, he misled the pension fund.
De Groene writes that several VitaK employees reported to the present Executive Board and the supervisory board. The Executive Board rejected the complaints. According to spokesperson Gert van Doorn, the first reports were made a year ago, he says in answer to questions by Observant.
The matter is currently being investigated. The Executive Board, after “analysis” and possibly its own additional investigation, will come forward with a “clear opinion”, said Van Doorn. When this will be, he cannot say.
Eleven days after Schurgers was inaugurated as professor, VitaK was declared bankrupt (on 23 October 2018).
The article about the case in De Groene Amsterdammer (in Dutch): https://www.groene.nl/artikel/ondernemende-professoren-van-de-universiteit-maastricht-staken-geld-in-eigen-zak
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