External Qi

This blog posts starts with a 2018 paper that shows us that “External Qi” can kill lung cancer cells, but that lacks an explanation on what it exactly is. Going back in time trying to detangle a hairball of references, we end up in 2004 with a paper in Brain Research that explains how a Chinese Qigong master famous in the 1980’s and 1990’s can kill cancer cells and make other cells grow by using a special Qigong technique.

This post is based on a Twitter thread on May 23, 2019, which you can also read on ThreadReaderApp here.

Let’s start with the most recent paper of this set that I could find. 
Here it is:
YXQ-EQ Induces Apoptosis and Inhibits Signaling Pathways Important for Metastasis in Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma Cells

It is about “YXQ-EQ” that can inhibit lung cancer cells. 
At first glance that sounds amazing.

And although it was not published in a grand journal, some of the authors are from @Harvard@BrighamResearch, and @DanaFarber – so it must be excellent research, right?

So, what is this magical compound “YXQ-EQ”, you might ask. Excellent question. Let’s look at the abstract.

“This study was aimed to investigate cytotoxic effect of external qi of Yan Xin Qigong (YXQ-EQ) toward human lung adenocarcinoma A549 cells”. 
Mmm, that sounds a bit vague. What is it, exactly?
The introduction text does not help a lot, either.

I want to stress here that it is not my intention to make fun of traditional Chinese Medicine. There are many good some medical therapies based on TCM. Here, I am specifically investigating the “YXQ-EQ” method.

Let’s take a look at the Methods section. Surely, we will learn more about how the researchers treated the cells with “YXQ-EQ”. After all, the Methods section of a scientific paper should have enough detail so that other researchers can reproduce the study.

There is nothing in the methods about the “YXQ-EQ” treatment. 
Let me repeat that, so it is very clear: nothing. 
No “Briefly, this involved…”. 
No reference. 
Only that it lasted 5 minutes.

A good reviewer should have asked for a detailed description of the magical treatment. 
If not given by authors in revised manuscript, that is reason to reject. That is the strength of #PeerReview
Apparently, none of the reviewers/editors asked this question.

Yet, this elusive method has great powers. It magically kills cancer cells, so how does it work? 
Let’s look at the references about the “YXQ-EQ” method. There is a lot of self-citation going on here.

Another red flag: the corresponding author, from @Harvard / @DanaFarber does not list their institutional email. That does not necessarily mean anything (people hop around and so emails change), but I consider this a red flag here.

Update May 24 2019: Several people pointed out that partners.org is actually the email handle of many Harvard-associated institutions.

Let’s take a look at some of the other references about the mysterious “YXQ-EQ” treatment. 
I suddenly realize that “Yan Xin Qigong” refers to the name of the first author. It is his method, and only the first author can perform this method.

There is another paper (same journal, 2013) with the Qigong master as first author, in which “YXQ-EQ” inhibits colon cancer cells. 
External Qi of Yan Xin Qigong Inhibits Activation of Akt, Erk1/2 and NF-kB and Induces Cell Cycle Arrest and Apoptosis in Colorectal Cancer Cells

In a third paper, from 2012, “YXQ-EQ” inhibits growth of another cell line of lung cancer. It appears to work with many cancer cell lines.

External Qi of Yan Xin Qigong induces cell death and gene expression alterations promoting apoptosis…

And surely enough, the “YXQ-EQ” method can also kill off breast cancer cells, according to this 2010 paper. 
karger.com/Article/PDF/27…

None of these papers actually describes what “YXQ-EQ” entails. Here are some Methods section screenshots.
In none of these papers, reviewers or editors asked the right questions. 
At least, we now have a reference to go to, from 2004.

After following a hairball of references, we are finally in the year 2004, at this paper published in Brain Research, by researchers from @Harvard@UofOklahoma and @NIH. There are also some affiliations with alternative medicine institutes that appear to be hard to find online.

Involvement of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and insulin-like growth factor-I in YXLST-mediated neuroprotection

The Qigong master will now reveal to us how the method works. Here is the Methods section from the 2004 paper.

Here is a translation of the scientific language. Here is how YXL-EQ works:
The Qigong master will take the cancer cells to a private room, and will do something secret. So secret that he can only do it in a locked room. Then he will give the cells back. And voila – they are dead.

Maybe the master has a UV lamp? Or a bottle of bleach? Or a flame torch? 
I am open to other suggestions too. Or was he not even in the room with the cells? The description is not very clear.

Again, I want to say that I do not want to make fun of traditional Chinese medicine, or about anyone’s belief in Qi as an invisible force of life, or of anyone who enjoys practicing Qigong. You can read more about Qi here: 
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qi

But if one single researcher claims that he – and only he – can use Qi to kill off cancer cells, he should be willing to share how they do that. 
If it happens behind closed doors, scientists have every reason to be suspicious.

But what is most bewildering is that there are at least 7 peer reviewed, Pubmed-indexed papers based on this mysterious technique. 
Seven sets of peer-reviewers and editors who were not doing their jobs. 
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=X…

Also note that this work was funded by the @NIH .

This set of papers was brought to me in private by a concerned reader – I did not find them by myself. 
Not everyone is in a position to call out bad science, so thank you, concerned reader, for raising this issue. 
Be like this concerned reader.

You can read more about the Qigong Master on his website, on this page, or in a book about his Qigong mastery as found on the CIA website.

Short description of the Qigong master taken from his website at http://www.yanxinqigong.net/aboutdryan/index.htm
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