Such novel fundraising methods raise concerns because they don’t go through the conventional peer-review process, said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. And when they rely on celebrities, as some do, they can draw money for reasons other than scientific merit, he said.
But after reviewing Saltzman’s video at the request of the Star Tribune, Caplan said: “One can always niggle at these things, but it seems fine — (a) strong plea for money but from a very legit research program,” he said in an email. Caplan’s only concern was why the project hadn’t drawn NIH or foundation funding given its promising results in animals.
Saltzman has been studying the use of bacteria as a potential way to fight cancer since 1993 and thinks he’s on the verge of a breakthrough. He says he needs about $250,000 a year for two years to develop the data required to convince the Food and Drug Administration to authorize human testing. If approved, he said, the U has committed to pay for the $800,000 it would take to run the “phase 1” trial in humans.
Although the U provides researchers with expensive tools like electron microscopes and a fertile environment for the exchange of ideas, Saltzman said, “They give you a room and they turn on the lights. They charge rent for the room. But every lab and every … principal investigator is basically charged with raising their own funds to do research.”
The idea of crowdfunding Saltzmans’ work came from Max Duckler, a semiretired entrepreneur who in 1993 founded CaptionMax, a closed-captioning service for television. Duckler has a degree in biology and a lifelong fascination with medicine. He attended a fundraiser where he bid to spend a day with a surgeon. He won, shadowed Saltzman on six surgeries, and learned about the cancer research.