The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center takes legal action against Evolv water

This post appeared originally at the ScienceBlogs Home of Terra Sigillata on 20 November 2009.

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In September we posted “M.D. Anderson name misused in Evolv nutraceutical water advertising,” detailing the not-exactly-truthful claim by a multilevel marketing company that their bottled water product was “tested” by one of North America’s premier teaching and research hospitals.

A flurry of search engine hits to this post raised my attention to the fact that the The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has now initiated legal action against the makers of Evolv. Cameron Langford at Courthouse News Service reports:

Two companies are pushing bottled tap water with false claims that it’s endorsed by the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Texas says in Federal Court. The UT says HealtH20 Products and Evolvehealth sell the bogus water it as “Evolv,” claiming it is infused with an “Archaea Active formula.” [. . .]

[. . .] “Specifically, defendants are misleading consumers and cancer patients into believing that UT’s MD Anderson conducted extensive testing of the main formula in the Evolv product, known as ‘Archaea Active,” the UT says.

“Defendants’ misuse of the MD Anderson marks creates, at a minimum, a likelihood that cancer patients and consumers will falsely believe that defendants’ products is sponsored or endorsed by UT’s MD Anderson, when in fact, MD Anderson does not endorse or recommend the use of the defendants’ product.”

Natural products researchers, including yours truly, are used to supplement companies misrepresenting our published papers in their advertising literature. There’s not much we can do as individuals when our work is cited on a webpage.

However, there’s a much more serious issue going on in this case: according to the official complaint filed against the companies by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System (PDF here from Courthouse News) M.D. Anderson and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are registered US trademarks.

When the M.D. Anderson name was first used in Evolv product advertising, the center’s Office of External Communications released this relatively light-hearted statement on 9 September clarifying that the institution did conduct fee-for-service testing the product for anti-inflammatory activity but did no efficacy or toxicity testing.

According to item 25 in the complaint, a more official and stern request to the manufacturers followed on 4 November and “demanded that the defendants cease using the M.D Anderson Marks.” Defendants, however, refused to comply with UT’s demands.”

Incidentally, the complaint notes in item 24 that the defendants attempted to obtain from the University of Texas an exclusive, world-wide, royalty-free license to use the M.D. Anderson Marks in relation to the Evolv water beverage” after the initial objections of the cancer center

(Not listed in the complaint was what I suspect was M.D. Anderson’s likely response: “What, are you people high or something?”)

Wilonsky notes:

Far as the UT Board of Regents is concerned, Evolv’s doing nothing more than using M.D. Anderson’s name and rep to build a “pyramid,” which is why it’s taking Evolv to court for trademark violation and trademark dilution and damages.

And even with the filing of the complaint in US District Court in Houston this past Monday: this remains the text on the Evolv website as of 12 noon today:

More than 15 years of scientific research and development have been invested in our proprietary, all natural Archaea Active™ formula. Evolv combines this colorless and flavorless formula with natural spring water to deliver the health benefits of good hydration with optimal oxygen utilization and increased stamina, energy and endurance. In vitro testing was conducted at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and FutureCeuticals®.

The Archaea Active™ formula may also help:

  • enhance the absorption of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins and other important nutrients
  • speed fatigue recovery
  • maintain healthy circulation
  • support a healthy immune system

Hmm. . .if M.D. Anderson filed that complaint against me, I’d have had the webmaster change the page a femtosecond later – but that’s just me.

So what did investigators at M.D. Anderson actually test for anyway?
But there is one interesting sidenote to this case: some of the in vitro testing results of the HealtH2O water are posted on the “Archaea Active” website. The complete report with names and dates isn’t posted and there is no assurance that what is there is verified by whoever conducted the studies. But here’s my interpretation of the available information. (I’ve retained a screenshot in case it disappears)

The water was apparently tested against A549 small cell lung carcinoma and RBL1 rat basophilic leukemia cells for suppression of arachadonic acid-stimulated release of pro-inflammatory lipids such as prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4.

At first glance of the data presented, it might appear that the water does actually have an effect on suppressing bioactive lipid production at so-called 1X, 0.5X, and 0.25X water concentrations (no standard deviations or indication of replicates, though). But what this appears to mean is that the cells were removed from culture conditions and exposed to straight water and then 50% and 25% water in culture medium. These no-salt or low-salt conditions would obviously kill the cells by hypotonic lysis during what appears to be a 2 hr incubation period; there do not appear to be corresponding controls to correct for this activity.

What a mess.

The rest of the data on endogenous release of PGE2 and leukotrienes are a bigger mess, with the water appearing to even increase production at some concentrations, and no apparent concentration-response trend.

Again, the full report has not been released by M.D. Anderson and there’s no assurance that what is on the Archaea Active website is authentic. However, it might look like official gobbledygook to a non-scientific reader that demonstrates some activity of the water when, in fact, these appear to be uncontrolled and uninterpretable experiments.

(I should note for the record, however, that the Arachaea Active website, run by healtH2o, does have the disclaimer in bold: “Please note that MDACC does not endorse, back or recommend any Archaea Active™ products.”)

I’d love to hear any input from anyone who studies bioactive lipids for a living.

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2 Responses to The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center takes legal action against Evolv water

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