This video, featuring a person who is, here, and elsewhere, described variously as ‘Doctor’ and ‘Professor’ Anthony Holland, has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently. It carries the duplicitous suggestion that there exists a way to cure cancer with sound waves. Further, it implies that this remarkable medical discovery is, for some reason, kept from the people who need it most because [insert paranoid fantasy du jour here].
Let’s take a look at what they’re saying here, and at the personage of Dr/Prof Holland and his bona fides.
First of all, let me say right off the top that the breathless claim in the title is entirely true. 100% accurate, in fact. Sound waves can, indeed, destroy cancer cells. Sound can rip those little suckers into protoplasmic shreds like a combine harvester in a daisy field.
But here’s the thing: killing cancer cells is not hard.
If you take a cancer cell culture and pour sulphuric acid on it, those cells will die. And I think you can see why no-one is galumphing around claiming that sulphuric acid is a cure for cancer. The problem for cancer treatment is not destroying cancer cells – we know literally hundreds of ways to do that – the problem is destroying cancer cells without destroying all the other cells in the human being that has cancer. If you can be bothered to watch the video I’ve linked above, you’ll have already seen where the truck-sized loophole in the claims lies:
“While the laboratory results have shown great promise, living subjects have not been studied”
Just a teensy detail that doesn’t stop Anthony Holland from attempting to raise money for his folksy notion, nor parading it on the TEDx stage.
The video also advances a contentious idea that is common among the practitioners of alternative medicine – the belief that all things are imbued with ‘frequencies’*. This is a kind of magical thinking that is as persistent as it is meaningless. If one could only find the ‘frequency’ of pancreatic cancer cells, the video infers, one would hold the key to zeroing in on just those cells and no others.
Unfortunately, a method for doing that kind of zeroing-in with Mr Holland’s amazing sound rays is not forthcoming in the video… nor indeed, anywhere else you might care to look. This is hardly surprising, because it’s not science, and Mr Holland is not a scientist. He’s also not a doctor, as far as I can tell, and certainly not a doctor of medicine, nor of any other discipline that might give him expertise in the field in which he is claiming these incredible discoveries. He is a professor – well, an associate professor, anyway – of music.
It is possible that sound might have some unique applications in medicine, and there are a number of possibilities entering the medical literature. For example, a technique called Ultrasound-Mediated Microbubble Destruction (UMMD) has been advanced as a method for weakening cancer cell walls in order to facilitate drug-uptake.
These innovations come from accredited medical specialists, however, and are based on well-researched science, quite unlike Anthony Holland’s colourful ‘smash it like a resonating wineglass‘ magic trick.
*Go on, think about it for a few minutes. Can a cell have a frequency? What about a clump of cells – say, in the form of a zucchini. Is there a zucchini frequency? Does water have a frequency? Most of a cancer cell is water. Is water the same frequency as a cancer cell? A zucchini is mostly water – are cancer cells and zucchinis the same frequency? It’s nonsense of the most simplistic kind.
This idea of frequencies is as vague and meaningless as the associated notion of ‘energy’, another ubiquitous staple of pseudoscience.