The amazing case of Dr. Lipo 90210

March 4, 2009

There seems no end to bizarre stories lately. They range from embryo-implanted octuplets to a pet chimpanzee gone bad. Each has played out among media as compelled to report them as we are to talk about them, slack-jawed and mesmerized. But none resonates in our industry as much as the one about the one-time radiologist who fueled his car with human fat.

There seems no end to bizarre stories lately. They range from embryo-implanted octuplets to a pet chimpanzee gone bad. Each has played out among media as compelled to report them as we are to talk about them, slack-jawed and mesmerized. But none resonates in our industry as much as the one about the one-time radiologist who fueled his car with human fat.

The case, reported Feb. 17 in The Wall Street Journal, involves Dr. Craig Bittner, an interventional radiologist who reinvented himself as "Dr. Lipo 90210." From an office in Beverly Hills, Bittner advertised that "you can lose over one gallon of fat with liposculpture." Bittner offered a twist on liposuction that fueled more than his practice.

At the height of the energy crisis last summer, when gas prices topped $4 a gallon, Bittner fueled his car with medical wastes. The California Department of Public Health "went ballistic," Bittner told the WSJ. How did state health officials hear about it? Bittner told them on his LipoDiesel website.

"I thought it was a great thing to demonstrate to the world how many ways there are to solve the energy crisis," he reportedly said.

While many in California look for ways to burn fat, few sign up to do so after their fat has been removed. Bittner contends, however, that his patients signed consent forms allowing him to use their fat as biofuel. Regardless, California regulators would like to have seen at least an application for this alternative use, according to the WSJ.

But what landed Bittner in the most hot water with state officials were complaints from irate clients.

The California Medical Board is looking into allegations that Bittner allowed unlicensed office staff to perform cosmetic surgery. Last November, the board executed a criminal search warrant of his offices in Beverly Hills and Irvine, CA, as well as his Santa Monica home.

It was the second time Bittner had run afoul of the medical mainstream. His outpatient imaging company HealthScan America stirred controversy five years ago over the use of imaging modalities, particularly MR, to screen for disease.

No charges have yet been filed against the ersatz liposculptor from his stint in plastic surgery. If they are, the long arm of the law may have to reach quite a ways.

Citing a poor economy and frivolous lawsuits -- a patient is claiming millions of dollars in emotional damage from the thought that her fat fueled Bittner's car -- Dr. Lipo closed his Beverly Hills practice in December and headed south -- way south. In a letter posted on his website, Bittner said he was going to a small clinic in South America similar to the one outside Bogotá, Colombia, where his career began. The change of venue offers Bittner a chance to "help those most in need," he wrote.

Bittner leaves behind a world in need of diversions, one grateful for stories about lipodiesel and its shortcomings. (In a postscript on his LipoDiesel website, Bittner writes: "I am sad to announce that the rumors I have a private jet that runs on human fat are entirely untrue.")

We can only hope that Bittner finds the time to keep in touch.