Questions Surround Death of Controversial Autism Physician

Alicia Ault

July 10, 2015

There is still little that is definitive about the death of Jeffrey James Bradstreet, MD, a physician who employed unorthodox techniques in treating the children who came to his autism-focused practice in Georgia.

Dr Bradstreet's body was found June 19 in the Rocky Broad River in Chimney Rock, North Carolina, with "a gunshot wound to the chest, which appears to be self-inflicted," according to the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office said that his body would be sent for an autopsy, which was to be conducted on June 23. Results have not yet been made public.

Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency reportedly searched Dr Bradstreet's clinic in Buford, Georgia, in the days before his death. The Georgia agency investigates the diversion of controlled substances and inspects any facility that is licensed to handle, possess, distribute, or dispense pharmaceuticals.

According to a search warrant issued on June 16 by the US District Court for Northern Georgia, the two agencies went to Dr Bradstreet's office to shut down the illegal use of globulin component macrophage-activating factor (GcMAF). That unapproved agent has been studied as a potential immune booster and anticancer drug.

Dr Jeff Bradstreet. Source: Courtesy of drbradstreet.com

The search warrant gave the authorities permission to take any and all digital and paper records, computers, and other media, as well as anything at all pertaining to GcMAF, "all of which may constitute evidence of the receipt in interstate commerce of a misbranded drug," said the warrant.

A website devoted to, and supportive of, GcMAF reports that Dr Bradstreet had treated "over 2000 children" with the drug.

In February, the UK Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency warned consumers not to use "an unlicensed medicine called GcMAF labelled as First Immune," saying that an inspection of the manufacturer's production facility found that it did not meet good manufacturing practice standards. The concern was that the products might be contaminated and "are not licensed medicines and have not been tested for quality, safety or effectiveness."

For some people, however, there are still more questions than answers. Many of Dr Bradstreet's supporters and family have raised the possibility that he may not have committed suicide. They set up a Facebook page, "Remembering Dr Bradstreet," and a fund-raising site, "To find the answers to the many questions leading up to the death of Dr Bradstreet, including an exhaustive investigation into the possibility of foul play."

"Promoter of Questionable Methods"?

Dr Bradstreet began to look into autism after diagnosing his son with the condition; that son is now going to college.

Dr Bradstreet received his medical degree from the University of South Florida in 1979 and was a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, but was reportedly not board certified in any specialty. He had a current medical license in Georgia.

His interest in treating autism and helping patients took him to the Ukraine to conduct fetal stem cell experiments, as well as around the United States, lecturing on the possibilities of hyperbaric therapy, the gut–brain connection, and how to defeat the disease with fecal transplants, probiotics, and immunotherapy.

He also was an advocate of magnetic resonance therapy, which he described on his blog as "a process of transcranial magnetic stimulation at very special frequencies to affect a change in how the brain communicates." Magnetic resonance therapy could improve "harmonics, behavior, socialization, and cognition in children," said Dr Bradstreet.

And he pushed chelation, based on the theory that some children with autism are poisoned by heavy metals, including mercury from vaccines, leading him to become an outspoken advocate for the antivaccine movement.

In 2009, the Office of Special Masters at the US Court of Federal Claims disputed the notion that mercury in vaccines was linked to autism. The court also questioned Dr Bradstreet's treatment of the boy who brought the federal vaccine claim, which included secretin infusions, immunoglobulin, and chelation.

Chelation is approved by the FDA for heavy metal poisoning, but not for autism, and in 2010, the agency warned that over-the-counter chelation treatments were illegal.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there was no evidence that vaccines raised the risk of autism.

Dr Bradstreet also caught the attention of many in the medical community, notably Stephen Barrett, MD, founder of the website Quackwatch, which considered him a "promoter of questionable methods and/or advice."

Regardless, Dr Bradstreet had — and still has — a legion of supporters. Among them is Laura Bono, a parent of an autistic child and spokesperson for SafeMinds, an organization that believes vaccines are partly to blame for autism.

She said that Dr Bradstreet had chelated her son safely and that she found his methods to be appropriate and ahead of his time.

"Early on, Jeff was just about the only doctor out there that was treating the biomedical conditions of autism," Bono told Medscape Medical News.

She said that although nothing was certain yet about his death, she would be surprised if it was a suicide. "In my own mind, and I see that echoed with a lot of parents, it's not in keeping with the Jeff that we all know," she said.

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