MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

I rarely follow up announcements of new studies of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). But this one is different. It was so spectacular that almost precisely two years ago I reported about it. Here is what I wrote:

Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, a cardiologist at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute in the US, has started a trial of prayer for corona-virus infection. The study will involve  1000 patients with COVID-19 infections severe enough to require intensive care. The four-month study will investigate “the role of remote intercessory multi-denominational prayer on clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients,” according to a description provided to the National Institutes of Health.

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Male or female greater than 18 years of age
  • Confirmed positive for COVID-19
  • Patient admitted to Intensive Care Unit

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Patients admitted to ICU for diagnosis that is not COVID-19 positive

(Not giving informed consent is not listed as an exclusion criterion!)

Half of the patients, randomly chosen, will receive a “universal” prayer offered in five denominational forms, via:

  • Buddhism,
  • Christianity,
  • Hinduism,
  • Islam,
  • Judaism.

The other 500 patients in the control group will not be prayed for by the prayer group. All the patients will receive the standard care prescribed by their medical providers. “We all believe in science, and we also believe in faith,” Lakkireddy claims. “If there is a supernatural power, which a lot of us believe, would that power of prayer and divine intervention change the outcomes in a concerted fashion? That was our question.”

The outcome measures in the trial are

  • the time patients remain on ventilators,
  • the number of patients who suffer from organ failure,
  • the time patients have to stay in intensive care,
  • the mortality rate.

________________________________________

For months, I have now been looking out for the results of this study. It must long be finished now. The results cannot be difficult to analyze. The publication of such a sensational trial should not be a problem. If the findings are positive, even top journals would be keen to publish them. If they are negative, they would still be worth reporting.

So, where are they?

I could not find a trace of them!

Why not?

I was puzzled and became more and more frustrated.

Until I had the obvious idea of looking at the website that reported the above details two years ago. There was the answer to my questions:

“Recruitment Status: Terminated (Due to the low enrollment, this study is closed. Analysis of data is not performed.)”

 But how can this be?

What can possibly be the reason for an enrollment that was too low to properly conclude this trial?

  • There were certainly enough COVID patients (contrary to what was claimed earlier, the sample size is now given at merely 200).
  • Many of these US patients would, of course, be religious and thus welcome some divine intervention.

So, why might such a trial fail? I can only think of two reasons:

  • The execution of the trial was sloppy and half-hearted.
  • The research question was too daft for participants to consent.

Whatever the reason, I find it sad, possibly even unethical that research funds are being wasted on such nonsense.

 

PS

The sponsor of this study was the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute. The director of the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute is Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, the principal investigator of this trial.

PPS

When the study was first announced in 2020, it received huge publicity. I, therefore, think that the investigators should have had the decency to also publicly announce that they failed to conclude it.

17 Responses to Daily prayer against severe COVID – an update of a study started two years ago

  • Crazy study! How on earth did it get through IRB ethical review?

  • Yes it’s nonsense. However given that one of the inclusion criteria was ICU admission I would think the most likely reason for the study’s termination was the up to 40% mortality rate at the time (https://associationofanaesthetists-publications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/anae.15425), the failure of God to intervene and the fact you can’t guarantee nobody else is praying for the patients.
    Of course it’s also possible the hospital told Dr Lakkireddy to get some gloves and a mask on, do something useful and stop being embarrassing.

  • It may also have been an issue with using universal prayer. Some people are funny about having people outside their religion praying for them. It may have been better received to ask the patients their beliefs/religion and have only people in that group pray for them.

    But maybe someone showed him this and he backed out?

    “ Conclusions: There is no scientifically discernable effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.”

    https://academic.oup.com/abm/article/32/1/21/4743198?login=false

    • “But maybe someone showed him this and he backed out?”
      Have you ever conducted a trial?
      One cannot ‘back out’, it’s a commitment not a hobby.

    • It may have been better received to ask the patients their beliefs/religion and have only people in that group pray for them.

      Study details doesn’t mention anything about blinding, so the patients in prayer cohort know that someone is praying for them and if they get to choose the type of prayer, wouldn’t that muddy the placebo waters further?

  • Back out: withdraw from a commitment. (Oxford)

  • If such a study had negative results, people who are religious would likely just say things like “God hides”, so that an organized test for the paranormal efficacy of prayer wouldn’t ever give rigorous proof.
    How would you test for the existence of a superintelligent, omnipotent, omniscient being that wants people to believe by faith, so it doesn’t want rigorous proof of its paranormal powers?
    Such a test couldn’t be truly blind, because the subject – God – would know everything that went on.
    And what would it mean for such a being to “really exist”, anyway?

  • OK, I confess: I fervently prayed that this study would fail.

    Obviously Someone listened to me.

  • The issue here is not the potential for God’s intervention but the blaze of publixity given when the trial was announced, and the paucuity of publicity about its failure.

    Had it not been for Guru Ernst we might never have known the truth of the situation.
    Many thanks for that.

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