Duckler said he was disturbed to find that Saltzman and his lab workers were worried whether they could afford to spend $600 to buy special research mice.
“Six hundred dollars and you have to ask whether you can afford it? This is not good,” Duckler said.
A medical advertising firm called StoneArch and a public relations firm named PineappleRM donated their services to publicize Saltzman’s work, and the Twin Cities office of BusinessWire distributed the news release at no charge.
In the marketing video, Saltzman describes how the engineered salmonella penetrate a tumor and activate the body’s immune system to destroy it. “We have tested this therapy in over 4,000 mice. In addition, in small pilot studies in humans and dogs with cancer, we have not seen any side effects at all. Can you imagine a cancer treatment without side effects, whatsoever?”
Jeff Miller, deputy director of the U’s Masonic Cancer Center, said Saltzman’s pitch in the video goes a little far for some researchers, who prefer to seek the U’s institutional funds for basic research.
“Lots of people have good ideas here,” Miller said. “I don’t think what Dan is doing is being looked down upon. I think the issue is that we just want people to be honest and realistic about their claims when they’re tied to the institution.”
Project Stealth donations go directly to the University of Minnesota Foundation and are subject to its controls and management, said Sarah Youngerman, a spokeswoman. She said Saltzman hasn’t misrepresented himself. “This guy is changing people’s lives — kids’ lives,” she said.
Crowdsourcing, which other U researchers have used occasionally, “isn’t where you’re going to raise big, big dollars,” Youngerman said, but it can help with public awareness. “A lot of people feel like they can make a difference in a very small way. And certainly they can, as you aggregate those $10 gifts or those $50 gifts.”