Colombia’s first ever science minister faces calls to resign over fungi-based cancer treatment

Source: Science Magazine

In December 2019, when Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez appointed molecular biologist Mabel Gisela Torres Torres to be the first head of the newly created Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, only a few of the nation’s researchers knew who she was.

Torres was “a total stranger,” recalls Gustavo Quintero Hernández, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Del Rosario University.

Now, Torres is obscure no more—and finds herself at the center of controversy that has included calls for her resignation.

The storm began on 10 January, 1 day before Torres took office, when the newspaper El Espectador published a story raising questions about her research record. The story reported a claim Torres made, during a broadcast interview in August 2019, that she had essentially run an informal, uncontrolled clinical trial with cancer patients. Torres said she had given a brew made from a fungus she was studying to patients with cervical, breast, and brain cancer, and that their health had improved. She didn’t seek formal ethical, safety, and efficacy reviews prior to starting the work because it would have taken too long, and because she believed the fungus posed no threat to human health, she told the same paper the next day. She also said she hasn’t published the extensive data she has claimed to collect from such studies “as an act of rebellion,” although she plans to submit an application to patent her findings.