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Melbourne integrative institute employed doctor who lost licence after patients died

Before being employed by the institute, Mr Traill had been providing hyperthermia treatment to one of the patients whose deaths were relevant to the decision to cancel his medical registration.

Both of the deceased patients had been diagnosed with cancer and there is no suggestion Mr Traill’s treatment directly led to their deaths.

The National Institute of Integrative Medicine building in Hawthorn.

The National Institute of Integrative Medicine building in Hawthorn. Credit:Penny Stephens

Mr Traill told The Age he had been recruited by the institute in 2012 after it purchased a hyperthermia machine.

“[The medical board] got me for treating with hyperthermia. And then I was taken by NIIM,” Mr Traill said. “I said ‘what about the bureaucrats?‘, and [they] said ‘it’s all right, [we’re] great friends with people on the Peter Mac, we’re buddy-buddies, and we’re right’,” he said.

“[NIIM] have a Chinese machine, which we call the NRL. That particular one, uses like a microwave oven principle, radio waves, down at a lot lower frequency. Tumours don’t like being heated up very much.

“We’ve never killed anyone yet. Treated a lot of them. I sometimes wondered how the heart manages to handle it when we treat the chest, but never had any problems.”

In a statement, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre said it “has no association with the National Institute of Integrative Medicine and would never support or endorse someone providing cancer treatment without a medical licence”.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency confirmed Mr Traill was not a registered medical practitioner. She would not say whether his work at NIIM constituted medical treatment, and referred inquiries about unregistered health practitioners to the Victorian Healthcare Complaints Commission.

A spokeswoman for the commission would not say whether Mr Traill was allowed to administer hyperthermia or not.

Mr Traill was listed as an academic staff member on the institute’s website before he was removed after questions from The Age.

“His interest in cancer continues, with his involvement in hyperthermic treatments and the potential for Lithium to boost responses,” the website said.

Do you know more? Email the journalist at liam.mannix@theage.com.au or securely at liam.mannix@protonmail.com.

In 2014, four researchers from the institute, including Mr Traill, published results of a hyperthermia trial on 52 cancer patients, some of whom received as many as 64 treatments.

In 2012, according to its website, the institute purchased a Morestep NRL-003 Hyperthermia System via a donation – the same system Mr Traill said he was employed to maintain.

The Morestep NRL is not approved for use in Australia on the general public.

Unapproved medical devices can be used in clinical trials with permission from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Whether the NRL machine was approved for use in a clinical trial was confidential, a TGA spokeswoman said.

The institute pointed to two clinical trials for which it claimed the device was approved, and said it was being used appropriately. However, both trials are for an unrelated cancer screening test, and neither trial mentions the Morestep machine by name.

“A search of the [clinical trial registry] does not appear to include a trial for Morestep Hyperthermia System,” a Therapeutic Goods Administration spokeswoman told The Age. The TGA is responsible for approving devices used in medical trials.

Dean of the Faculty of Radiation Oncology at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, Dr Keen Hun Tai, said the clinical evidence for using hyperthermia to treat cancer was not convincing enough.

“The Faculty of Radiation Oncology cannot endorse its routine use in the treatment of cancers,” he said.

A 2004 report commissioned by the federal government found there was no evidence microwave cancer therapy worked, and that it may be associated with significant side effects and toxicities.

The institute said its NRL device had been decommissioned.

The Age revealed earlier this month senior cancer scientists held major ethical concerns about a human clinical trial of a cancer test the NIIM had been running. Mr Traill was not involved in that trial and it did not involve hyperthermia treatment.

In 2006, Mr Traill’s medical registration was cancelled after the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria found he failed “to exercise the care and skill of a competent medical practitioner in his treatment in 2000 and 2001 of three patients suffering from cancer”.

One, a five-year-old boy, received “microwave therapy” before dying.

In a second, he charged a woman with breast cancer $10,734 for treatments which included hyperthermia and microwave therapy – therapies the tribunal found to be unproven and not helpful. Her condition severely deteriorated and she ended up in palliative care.

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In a third case, Mr Traill treated a woman with lung cancer with hyperthermia, microwave therapy and lithium. She later died. At a hearing about Mr Traill’s medical registration, the tribunal heard her cancer was “potentially curable”.

“We found Dr Traill’s conduct and attitude very disturbing in a number of respects,” the tribunal concluded.

“In claiming to be an oncologist, recommending and administering unproven treatments to the patients, failing to inform them adequately of the proposed treatments, wrongly characterising infusions as chemotherapy and charging for them on that basis, as well as charging excessive fees for the treatments, we consider that Dr Traill ’s conduct represented a deliberate and sustained departure from accepted standards, and portrayed indifference and an abuse of the privileges which accompany registration.”

Mr Traill told The Age the medical board was “corrupt” and the result was “rigged”. He said one of the patients who testified “told fibs all the way through”.

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