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Charlie Sheen’s HIV Goat Milk Doctor

On January 29, 2016, HBO Real Time host Bill Maher featured Samir Chachoua, a man who claims to have discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS, cancer, and a host of other illnesses. He is not licensed to practice medicine in the US; he operates out of Mexico where he charges rich visitors many thousands of dollars for treatment with his untested vaccines. Most of what he says on the program is unverifiable, demonstrably false, or frankly impossible.

Charlie Sheen: Failure, not a Success

The problem from the start is that Chachoua claims to have cured Charlie Sheen of HIV, and yet he admits that Charlie still has HIV. What gives? He says Charlie was dying from severe encephalitis, was incontinent, couldn’t tolerate daylight, and had severe liver failure. He claims to have “fixed” the liver, eliminated all the symptoms, and returned Charlie to vibrant health within a few hours of the first treatment. He claims that “within minutes” of starting his therapy, Charlie’s liver tests went to normal levels. That is simply not a believable claim, and no proof is on the offing. Damaged tissue takes time to heal. Recovery from chronic illness takes more than a matter of hours.

Charlie Sheen was also featured on a recent episode of Dr. Oz. There he described how Chachoua injected himself with Charlie’s blood. Bizarrely, he drew blood from some kind of lump on Charlie’s elbow rather than from a vein. Dr. Oz was appalled, as anyone would be. Not only was there a risk of HIV transmission, but there was a risk of transfusion reaction from mismatched blood that had not been typed and cross-matched. If the incident really occurred, it was nothing but a theatrical stunt demonstrating Chachoua’s overconfidence and poor judgment.

Sheen had been on antiretroviral medications that had reduced his viral load to undetectable levels. As with all such patients, this does not mean the virus had been eradicated from the entire body. When Sheen stopped taking the meds, the HIV titers (concentrations) remained undetectable for a while, but then started going back up, exactly as would be expected. Chachoua started treating him during the undetectable period and proclaimed Charlie cured. But then Charlie’s titers started rising again. He realized he was not cured and went right back on his antiretroviral medications on the plane home from Mexico.

Chachoua claims Charlie Sheen as an example of his treatment’s success, but he is actually an example of its failure. Charlie says he had offered himself as a guinea pig, he has accepted that the treatment was a failure, and he is not recommending the treatment to others.

Eradicated HIV/AIDS From an Entire Country

Chachoua even claims to have eradicated both HIV/AIDS and Chikungunya (a viral infection) from the island nation of Comoros in 2006 with his vaccines. That claim is demonstrably false. HIV has never been eradicated from any country. As of 2012 there were 7,900 people in Comoros living with HIV/AIDS, and deaths from AIDS are still being reported there.

What Really Happened at Cedars-Sinai?

Chachoua claims that Cedars-Sinai found his vaccines “more than 99% effective.” He further claims that they published the research as their own, and then buried it. Maher showed a 20-year-old NBC news video claiming that a federal jury awarded Chachoua $10,111,250. That is not an accurate summary of what happened.

Chachoua did indeed send samples to Cedars-Sinai for testing, and some kind of testing was done. He then sued Cedars-Sinai for a whole list of things, but only the “conspiracy to defame” and breach of contract claims went to trial; all of the other claims were dismissed prior to trial, many for lack of evidence. In the trial, Chachoua claimed that the test results were positive and were published by a researcher named Daar in the November 1996 issue of the journal AIDS Research Human Retroviruses. No such article is listed on the journal’s website or in PubMed or in Daar’s own list of publications. The court said Chachoua was unable to produce the alleged article and failed to even offer admissible evidence that he had personal knowledge of any such article. Among other things, Chachoua claimed that Cedars-Sinai had destroyed his vaccine samples, but the court found that it was undisputed that the samples had been returned within a few months.

At trial, Chachoua lost on the defamation claim but won a jury verdict of $10,111,250 for breach of contract. However: he never got a penny of that money. The judge determined that the jury’s award was excessive and reduced the amount to $11,250, the actual cost of testing the samples. Chachoua was given the choice of accepting that award or having a new trial on the breach of contract claim. He refused the award, and a new trial was ordered. The court case was a circus. Chachoua went through five attorneys and sometimes represented himself; he refused to obey court orders and repeatedly claimed to be too ill to attend court proceedings. The case was dismissed for failure to prosecute. Even if he had pursued the case, the maximum he could have won was $11,250, because the judge found his claims of additional damages too speculative. The dismissal of the case was affirmed on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He not only received no money, but he had to pay thousands of dollars of court costs to the defendants.

What About the Science?

Chachoua developed what he calls “The Nemesis Theory,” a conjecture that for every disease there is an infectious organism capable of destroying it. He found a community in Mexico that had no cases of HIV/AIDS, and discovered that people there were drinking milk from goats infected with Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Virus (CAEV). This virus apparently has some cross-reactivity with the HIV virus. He believes CAEV protects people from infection with HIV. Instead of trying to test that hypothesis, Chachoua rushed to treatment, recommending patients drink infected goat milk; then he developed a vaccine based on CAEV that he thought would combat HIV. From this one unverified example, he expanded his vaccine hypothesis to include most other diseases. He claims “When measles or mumps or other viruses such as Newcastles or the goat arthritis virus, CAEV, wish to enter a human host, they must destroy whatever disease is preventing them from growing there efficiently. The right strains will therefore demolish viruses such as HIV or herpes and even change leukemic cells back to normal in order to grow happily inside healthy white blood cells.” There is no evidence that this is so, and scientists have good reason to think it is not so.

The testimonial page on Chachoua’s website reports miraculous cures of cancer, AIDS, heart failure, peripheral neuropathy, cardiomyopathy, multiple sclerosis, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, ALS, autism, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis. It would be truly remarkable if one method of treatment were effective in such a wide variety of diverse diseases.

When David Gorski, a cancer surgeon and research scientist, evaluated the science sections of Chachoua’s website, he found the case histories unconvincing and the scientific rationale implausible. He characterized it as “a lot of horrifying pseudoscience based on a germ of real science.”

Chachoua claims his vaccines work on a genetic level, almost instantly switching off harmful genetics and correcting them. He says results are seen within minutes of starting therapy. That’s simply not possible.

If Chachoua really had a cure for HIV and cancer, it would revolutionize medical science and clinical treatment. A legitimate scientist would publicize his findings and share his knowledge with the world for the benefit of millions of suffering patients. Even if he had no research funding, he could publish case reports in peer-reviewed scientific journals with detailed descriptions of what he had done, so that others could do the necessary research. Then he could sit back and wait for a very well deserved Nobel Prize. Chachoua has never published anything that I could find. I doubt that he has anything publishable.

Does Chachoua Really Have Patents?

Chachoua says he was awarded a patent in 2003 for “methods for disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and monitoring. More particularly, the present invention relates to the identification and use of disease-associated organisms, elements and forces which may be used, whole or in part, in the diagnoses, therapy and prevention of a targeted disease or other unwanted bodily condition and/or facilitate a desired state.”

I searched the US Patent Office files and found only one patent under his name: a 1996 patent for the use of 2-MEA and related compounds. He may have applied for a patent in other countries. I did find a patent application that seems to match his claim. Apparently it was not granted. A notation of “legal events” shows “examination request” in 2003 and “Dead” in 2005, meaning the patent application was abandoned. Anyway, patents are really beside the point. A patent doesn’t mean a method is effective, only unique.

Is Chachoua a Charlatan?

I don’t see how Chachoua could believe his own claims, but I can’t entirely rule out the possibility. People have been known to believe the most outrageous things. Chachoua might truly believe he is curing people. Every charlatan, quack, and snake oil salesman has testimonials from grateful patients. The effects they report are mostly subjective, unverified, and short-lived. In placebo-controlled trials, an average of 30% of subjects in the placebo group report improvement. If a quack only relies on patients who say they have improved and doesn’t do any long-term follow-up or controlled comparisons, it is easy for him to convince himself that his bogus treatment is working.

We have seen this over and over in the history of medicine. Early in the 20th century, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) ran a series on unconventional cancer treatments. On one page they would present a testimonial from a patient saying “Dr. X’s treatment cured my cancer!” and on the facing page they would present the patient’s death certificate showing that he had died of his cancer shortly after providing the testimonial.

Chachoua’s followers accuse the medical establishment of suppressing his cures. They see him as a lone genius battling persecution. Chachoua claims that individuals, not institutions, are the ones who make medical discoveries. He compares himself to Jenner, Pasteur, and Salk. He couldn’t be more wrong. Science has become increasingly complicated, and scientific discoveries are no longer made by individuals working outside the system. Salk’s polio vaccine was not the invention of a maverick; he built on accepted knowledge in mainstream science, and thousands of mainstream doctors worked together to test and validate his vaccine.

Chachoua’s so-called Induced Remission Therapy has been debunked on Quackwatch by Stephen Barrett. Dr. Barrett says, “Chachoua portrays himself as a conspiracy victim whose work has been undeservedly ignored and/or suppressed by the medical profession. However, his theories run counter to current understanding of cancer biology and immunology… No convincing evidence is available to show that Chachoua’s treatments could work as claimed.”

HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest success stories of modern medicine. In a matter of a few years, it was changed from a death sentence to a chronic condition that can be managed with a once-a-day combination pill to give patients a near-normal life expectancy with a good quality of life. It would be very foolish to stop these effective medications and switch to an untested treatment.

It is in this sense that Chachoua is a dangerous man. If he persuades patients to stop taking life-saving medications and injects them with untested vaccines based on a fanciful hypothesis that is inconsistent with much of modern medical science, that is perilous, as is giving him a platform on a national television show viewed by over four million people. Already comments are being posted on Internet forums that Chachoua’s appearance on his show is “the last thing AIDS activists need to be dealing with” and is likely to result in unnecessary deaths.

After Sheen’s appearance on the Dr. Oz show, Steven Novella blogged about it as a teachable moment. He explains that the average person is easily taken in by con artists. Without a high degree of science literacy and an awareness of the methods con artists use to turn people against the experts, it is very difficult to counter a sophisticated con. But try we must. END

Note: Thanks to Jann Bellamy, JD, who provided invaluable assistance in helping me understand the complexities of a real doozy of a legal case.

About the Author

Dr. Harriet Hall, MD, the SkepDoc, is a retired family physician and Air Force Colonel living in Puyallup, WA. She writes about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, an advisor to the Quackwatch website, and an editor of Sciencebasedmedicine.org, where she writes an article every Tuesday. She is author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. Her website is www.skepdoc.info.


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25 Comments

  1. John Cox says:

    I appreciated your comments regarding this guy. After watching the show the other night I thought he came off a bit weird but…my wife suffers from RA, nothing has worked up to this point. Next stop, quackery?
    I was unable to find anything online that seemed to have more integrity than a UFO site. Enough said. Thanks.

  2. chris block says:

    Thank you for your detailed – though not surprising – analysis of the good doctor. After watching the show the other night I was very disappointed in Bill Maher’s judgment – someone who I generally respect and usually seems very supportive of science and the scientific method. The combination of Charlie Sheen, Dr. Oz and this borderline loon did not exactly instill a sense of credibility and made me wonder if Bill had been up a little too late the night before with Willie and Snoop Dogg. I understand he was trying to use the segment in a misguided attempt to give credence to one of his own (co-produced) VICE reports on experimental cancer treatments – but in the end I think he did more harm than good. And once he brought out the old tired Water Engine conspiracy theory…

    • Paula says:

      Hi Chris,

      This is not the first time Bill Maher exhibits poor judgment and more that anything else, gullibility. In the past he has given airtime to anti-vaxers, has came up with very stupid comments about vaccines with the special guests and also is a supporter of anti-gmos “activists”. I cannot understand how such a smart person with very articulated arguments and an apparent logical reasoning, a person that constantly reminds us of the dangers of climate change, and how real it is, how it is a consensus of the scientific community that global warming is man-caused and how stupid republicans are for not accepting sound science evidence, could become himself, a victim of such quackery. The Vice special about the use of viruses in cancer treatment is not new and has been in the making for so many years now, of course, it has taken time because scientists follow very rigorous research standards, a.k.a the scientific method, just recently, last year, the FDA approved the use of bioengineered Herpes for the treatment of cancer. But this has nothing to do with that, this man Chachoua is claiming to have cured a virus!! So reckless and delusional, it is a shame that this nutjob was allowed to speak to such a big audience, very poor judgement indeed!

    • DanVignau says:

      Why would you call him a “Borderline Loon”? He is either a full loon and/or a complete quack. How could the media even justify his existence by broadcast
      ing his quackery??

  3. ML says:

    Bill Maher is a very funny guy who likes to get high. A lot like an adolescent trying to figure out what to do with his life. Unfortunately he’s rich and “successful” so he’ll remain dazed and confused; but funny. And then there’s “Pizza Boy”.

    • Doug Dean says:

      ML, my friend. I’d have to say you are somewhat bigoted when it comes to cannabis.

      • Dr. sghwxxx says:

        Aomw peopple say that weed messes up yer
        i forgot wjat tj messes what happens if i click in this space does ot

  4. River says:

    The author appears naive. The pharmaceutical companies make billions from convincing sick and desperate patients that they have the ONLY treatments.

    I am wondering if the author has ties to big pharm. True scientists know that discoveries are made when minds are open to paradigm shifts. No scientific discoveries are ever made by people using the same failed treatments repeatedly.

    I have been in medicine for many years I continue to keep my mind open to new ways of thinking about illness and treatment.

    • Jimmy says:

      River, if you have “been in medicine for many years,” you should be well aware of the rigorous testing that is required of medical treatments, as well as the importance of this testing. As mentioned in the article above, 30% of placebo patients report improvement. Doesn’t this illustrates the importance of scientific testing? We must weed out the treatments that don’t work so that patients do not waste time (or their lives) on treatments that won’t help.

      Being open to new ideas is indeed commendable and important to allowing new discoveries, but being open minded does not mean accepting extraordinary claims without any evidence. You accuse the author of having ties to “big pharma” for apparently no reason other than he has rejected some extraordinary claims which he clearly demonstrates have no extraordinary evidentiary support.

      This article is not in favor of any particular pharmaceutical company, but is rather clearly presenting the utter failure of an “alternative” treatment. If this dude’s treatment actually worked to cure AIDS as he claims it does, scientific testing would verify this. If this was the case, you might have a point. It is obvious, though, that this man does not have any interest in having his claims subjected to actual verifiable testing.

      Again, I’m not saying this man’s claims are impossible, or that I would never accept that his treatments work better than “big pharma” treatments, nor do I think the author is claiming this. If rigorous testing revealed that his treatment was successful, I (and I’m sure the author) would gladly admit it. Not only that, but his treatments would change the world. People would be clamoring for his treatments. All he needs to do is support his claims with evidence, even a little bit. Alas, all he appears able to do is make boastful claims.

      If you have some additional evidence that this man’s claims are truthful, I would be extremely interested in seeing it, as would the scientific and medical communities. Like I said, if his treatments work they way he says they do, he could save millions of lives. But if they don’t work they way he says they do, he could harm and even end lives by distracting people from getting real, verified effective treatments.

      • mjones78 says:

        Jimmy- a very reasoned, and patient, response to a post that is either very naïve, or, more likely, a red herring dressed up in a tuxedo..

    • Norm Richmond says:

      Hahahahah….oh wait, you’re serious?

    • Harriet Hall says:

      For the record, I have no ties to Big Pharma.

      You’re right that no scientific discoveries are made by closed minds. We are entirely open to the possibility that Chachoua has made a discovery, but we’re not about to accept his word for it when he doesn’t even bother to publish so much as a case report, and when his one very public story of curing Charlie Sheen is belied by the fact that Charlie still has HIV.

    • DanVignau says:

      If the treatment works, big pharma buys it and makes a fortune. This has not happened.

    • Tony says:

      River, I see a typo in your comment.

      You said “I have been IN medicine for years”. It was obviously autocorrected from “I have been ON medication for years”

    • K. J. Francis says:

      Excellent counter-point, thank you. The author seems to have conjured the same tired arguments and actually produced a fair amount of evidence about the suppression of the information Dr. Chachoua was trying to present the world.

  5. Hugo Lindum says:

    Dear Dr Hall

    Thank you for taking the trouble to destroy brick by brick the edifice of this person’s money-making scheme. It takes a lot of patience and tenacity to destroy his arguments so thoroughly.

    For all of us, thank you.

  6. tpaine says:

    Thanks Dr. Hall for an outstanding report.
    I think that Bill Maher is usually extremely funny, less so when he gores my ox. That said, Bill often suffers from cognitive dissonance. and often seems to be irrational. The best thing would be for you to appear on his show and explain to his audience, your points about how we must be ever vigilant about being fooled by irrationality.

  7. bruce says:

    I think an equivalent to Godwin’s law (​that is, if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism) is needed for scientifically based medical discussions wherein inevitably it seems a guy like River will come along invoking the machinations of “Big Pharma”.

    • mjones78 says:

      unfortunately, bruce, the `Big Pharma’ defense is usually, as in this case, trotted out with the first response. But I like the way you think!

  8. Nick says:

    I am not a medical professional. I am not a scientist. I am an attorney. And much like scientists and doctors, I put credence in hard evidence. I admit that my interest in this matter stems from my sincere wish that Dr. Chachoua’s claims are true. Primarily because it would be one of the greatest medical discoveries of our time. So far, the only evidence I’ve found over these claims is in the form of, what can best be described as Witness Testimony – easily the most unreliable form of testimony. What I haven’t seen – and what I believe really needs to be produced – is hard science either supporting the claims made by Dr. Chachoua, or disproving them. Opinions are not hard evidence. The fact that Dr. Chachoua is not licensed to practice in the U.S. is a red herring. Dr. Chachoua is not American. I believe he is Australian, but that doesn’t really matter. There is, last time I checked, no requirement that a medical doctor must be licensed to practice in the U.S. to be taken seriously as a doctor. In my opinion, the medical science community can easily clear this matter up. Put Chachoua’s claims to the test. I’ve seen a few sites with (presumably) legitimate scientists and doctors claiming Chachoua is wrong and a quack. Maybe so. But prove him wrong. Merely saying it is meaningless. Chachoua has put forth a hypothesis. Prove him wrong. That is, after all, how science works. Someone puts forth a hypothesis, and it’s up to others to prove or disprove that hypothesis. If the claims are B.S., then so be it. I believe the greater danger lies in not investigating.

    • ermesy says:

      Actually Nick, it is up to Chachoua to prove his claims. Since he is making the claim, the onus of proof is on him. Surely as a lawyer you understand this principle.
      And anyway he has been proven 100% wrong in this case – did you not read the part that said Sheen is still HIV positive?

    • Paula says:

      Nick, I believe you are a little confused about how science works compared to law, I don’t know much about law but I know that in a criminal case the prosecution has to be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the culpability of the accused, in science, however, the “burden of proof” is on the person making the claim. No one can prove him wrong if he hasn’t submitted any data to verify his claims. He is like the people that claim to speak to God, so is it up to us, the rest to investigate if it’s true? or should we demand that he/she submit a recorded conversation or any tangible proof his/her claims? Usually the way it’s done in science, is by first making an observation, if your observation or question is valid, then you formulate a hypothesis, then you design experiments and make predictions, experimentation and data gathering begins, so in case everything went perfect (which is almost never the case) and if your predictions were correct and the experiments designed for it verify your hypothesis and if the theory you propose is compatible with other natural laws, then you write the paper along with all your findings, method of reasoning and a detailed “step by step” of how you came to the conclusions that you did, you then publish it for peer review so that the whole scientific community can read, experiment, replicate your empirical data, and reject or confirm your theory. The scientific method is a set of general principles and it works because it requires very rigorous standards. Personally, me being a graduate student at UCLA, I find the claims of this man ridiculous, it offends me that he implies that a school as UCLA would make his paper disappear, if he indeed wrote a paper he could replicate his findings and resubmit for review a new one, any scientific institution or university would support him if his findings were worth supporting, just imagine the amount of federal, state and private grants any institution would receive with a vaccine that cures HIV and, according to Dr. Chachoua, everything else. These are bogus claims and should be dismissed as such.

  9. Aromaz says:

    To be honest I think it has led to more questions than answers about the industry as a whole and the timing of this guy#MartinShkreli and his impact on HIV infected individuals who are on maintenance medications. If more money was spent for these research and development opportunities toward a potentially realistic and cost effective treatment for both the company and patient, this would truly be a better step forward than straight out denial and a monopoly for lead pharmaceutical companies and no real quality of life for the patients, with new innovative treatments we could really make a dent toward eradication. But instead we patent more maintenance medications to keep us chronically ill.

  10. jessica sandy says:

    am here again to say a big thanks to Dr momodu for making me a complete man again, i was infected with herpes for 6 years i have been seriously praying to God and searching for cure. I came here last month to search for solution to my problem and i saw comment of people talking about different doctors and God directed me to choose Dr momodu and i contacted Him, he sent me a medicine and directed me on how i will take the medicine for 7 days, i did so and went for a test and my result came out as Negative. i am so happy, i shared tears of happiness and i have taken it upon my self to always testify about how God used Dr momodu to solve my problem. I am a clean man now, without any virus if you are infected with any disease like HIV, AIDS, CANCER HERPES or any other disease you can also be happy like me by contacting Dr momodu through his Email: dr.momoduherbalcure@gmail. com or cal +2347059073543 contact him now you will be cure for your sickness.
    god bless you doctor.

  11. CJohns says:

    I just wanted to thank Dr. Hall for this thorough and well constructed article. I am a religious watcher (pun intended) of Bill Maher and was deeply disturbed by the air time and lack of critical questions he gave Chachoua on his show. I tried to go to the Real Time website to post a comment on my disappointment but could not find space anywhere to give feedback.
    In addition, the day after the show aired, I had searched the internet hoping to find a slew of articles debunking Chachoua and explaining his lack of scientific process to lay persons. Only 1 results came up (in Quackwatch by Dr. Barrett mentioned in the article). The remainder of the search yielded Chachoua’s site, praise from bloggers and conspiracy theorists against Western medicine. Thankfully, sooner after, this article came to my inbox via eSkeptic. I hope more like this continue to be written and published.

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