Steamy summer traffic has raised the temperature in Jardine's Bazaar, Causeway Bay. Trams grind through streets stained by countless oil leaks and overheating engines. Shoppers fight for a path through the humid melee. A rumble of thunder culminates in a sharp crack, and the pedestrians quicken their pace. Seven floors above the evening bedlam, chelation therapy practitioner Dr Francis Siu Kin-fan casts an approving eye around his cool, cluttered clinic. Push open the creamy glass door to his waiting room and the scene may startle the uninitiated. Two patients slouch on foam-covered benches lining opposite walls. Their heads loll back, their eyes are glazed and one slips further towards the water-cooler against which he rests his knee. Crisp white sheets are draped over them. Both have needles taped to their soft inner arms. Plastic bags bulging with a bright orange fluid hang from intravenous drip stands by their sides, feeding the juice into the men's veins. Behind a sliding door another patient lies on an examination table, his arm connected to another half-pint bag of intravenous fluid. This is chelation therapy, touted as relieving ailments ranging from hardening of the arteries and retinal damage to kidney stones and symptoms of senility. It costs about $30,000 for one course of chelation therapy - although some patients may need more - and the genial Dr Siu will tell you how chelation can flush out deadly plaque blocking the arteries to your heart. Patients - mostly stroke, heart disease and diabetes victims - roll up at his small clinic and pay tens of thousands of dollars to have 325 cubic centilitres of amino acids pumped into their veins over a two to three-hour period, twice a week. 'We used to recommend just 20 bottles,' Dr Siu stated. 'Now advanced medicine in the States says 30 bottles. 'Before, I used about 550 cc; now I've changed it to 325 cc because people in Hong Kong are always rushed for time.' Chelation therapy is a treatment for heavy-metal poisoning. An amino acid known as EDTA is released into the blood, where it grips molecules of lead; the chemically-bound packages are then flushed out in urine. But alternative medicine gurus claim it works just as well for a range of complaints including heart disease, grasping pieces of artery-blocking calcium compounds and expelling them with urine. The medical establishment vociferously disagrees. Some see it as little better than a charlatan's promise, offering false hope to the territory's growing thousands with symptoms of heart disease. 'It does not work,' said Dr David Ho Sai-wah, one of the University of Hong Kong's top cardiologists and a groundbreaker in clearing and bracing blocked arteries. 'Several studies have set out to prove that it works, but they didn't succeed - and these are studies which set out enthusiastically to prove it,' he commented. 'It is a private hospital's tool, because it has not been proven. 'It's not expensive to buy the equipment and because it requires people to come back for successive treatments, it's money-spinning.' The respected American Heart Association (AHA) recently asked its New and Unestablished Therapies Task Force to look into chelation therapy. It found 'no scientific evidence to demonstrate any benefit from this form of therapy'. A Danish study which used approved methods to test its effectiveness in clearing blood clots in the legs found 'chelation therapy was not more effective than a placebo [sugar pill],' the AHA warned. 'Furthermore, using this form of unproven treatment may deprive patients of the well-established benefits from the many other valuable methods of treating these diseases.' Dr Ho does a quick mental calculation. '$30,000 . . . it's a 10-week course, right? Twice a week, so they're charging about $1,500 a bottle. That's a lot for a bottle of chemicals. 'If you do an angioplasty to unblock an artery it will cost $15,000 to $20,000 at a public hospital. The immediate success rate is about 97 per cent.' But Dr Siu, who learned of the technique while practising in New Zealand, says he believes it will help his patients. 'For me, here, I limit it to any condition involving blockage of the arteries,' he insisted. 'I told my colleagues: I don't care if it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice. 'Even for those who intend to have surgery, I would say come for a course first, clean up your arteries before going for surgery.' The mere mention of chelation therapy may set blood boiling in influential medical circles - but that's professional politics, Dr Siu said. 'The richest society in the world is the heart society. 'We are running parallel. I don't say I can replace the cardiac surgeon; I always tell my patient it's only a complement. 'But it's a multi-million dollar business. There's competition there - they don't like us to talk about it. 'People in Hong Kong have the Chinese culture. 'They dare to visit the herbalist - this is more scientific. 'If they can afford the money, the time and [have] the guts to see the herbalist, sure they want to try anything. 'They even drink hydrogen peroxide. 'I welcome people who are desperate. 'When conventional medicine fails, come to me,' he urged. Surgeons, specialists, general practitioners and those who represent the medical profession are uneasy about registered doctors who embrace new and unproven therapies and sell them to their patients. 'Hong Kong doctors seem to be particularly good at getting on to these things,' said one leading surgeon at a teaching hospital. 'Hong Kong is becoming a marketing place for this type of wishy-washy therapy . . . and the physicians are latching on to it. 'If it can pay for itself within a few months - why not use it? You'll have the patient turnover. When it comes to embarrassment, the victim won't pursue it, and that's what they count on. 'When the patient realises it didn't work and they have paid the money, they're not going to come out and say: 'This guy said he could cure my baldness or flat chest, and he didn't.' In this society people feel guilty for what they haven't got. They're not going to say anything.' Those who enter the waiting room of Dr Fred Wong Fan-chor settle into a world of muted colours, silk flowers, luxury furniture and receptionists who voice polite inquiries in soft tones. Despite the prestigious Queen's Road address, Dr Wong's name is nowhere to be found among doctors listed on the building directory. Nor is it painted on the clinic door, which reads: Bioscor International (Hair Regrowth and Skin Care Management). Inside, his name cards are stacked at the counter and the man himself can be found in an office whose window faces through the towers of Central towards the harbour. Dr Wong has a fine scalp of lush, glossy, black hair. If he were not so blessed, how could he do this job? He makes the point and chuckles as he runs his fingers through the locks which must be the envy of his patients. Despite the 'hair and skin care' advertised on his door and on glossy brochures publicising the clinic's Skin Care System and Hair Regrowth Program, Dr Wong admits he is no dermatologist. He treats patients worried about their disappearing strands by using Bioscor packages. Each package, handed over in a brown paper satchel emblazoned with the green Bioscor logo, contains a 150ml bottle of scalp cleansing shampoo, 150ml of conditioner, 125ml of hair regrowth lotion (regular or strong) and three small bottles each containing about 30 common pills: iron, vitamin B and calcium supplements. It costs $2,500 - plus $500 for the first consultation - and lasts one month. Patients must return each month to replenish their prescription, paying another $2,500 a time. Each bottle, a receptionist proudly intimates, is made to a secret formula invented by Malaysian-born medic Dr Alan Ong. It has a 90 per cent success rate, she beams. Dr Ong, whose business cards are stacked at reception, lives in Australia but visits his Hong Kong clinic sporadically, according to his local colleague. Dr Wong is distinctly uncomfortable about the unexpected interest from the Sunday Morning Post, but is willing to explain a little about the business. His patients are aged 10 to 70 and desperate to save their thinning hair. 'We are using drugs to have natural hair growth,' Dr Wong said. 'Business is, shall we say, normal. Better than normal.' In Hong Kong, doctors are barred from advertising and from working with beauty clinics or sharing their profits. Dr Wong says he is doing neither. 'We are a medical clinic. We are not using anything that is no good,' he said. 'The patient comes in, we have to check their blood pressure and also their heart; we listen to their heart.' A stream of young men and women arrive, filing into the hirsute doctor's office for five to 10-minute consultations. Some come merely to collect and pay for the next month's hair products. Asked how he reconciles his Hippocratic oath with selling Bioscor hair regrowth products, Dr Wong draws himself to full height in voluble indignation. 'We are not selling a product,' he argued. 'We are prescribing. That's the difference. 'In Hong Kong, doctors prescribe their own medicines in the clinic. We confine ourselves to hair only. All the products we have are for hair - these are what they [the patients] need.' He turns back to his office, where another patient awaits his advice. Samson To Siu-wing, manager of the Bioscor centre, says having a doctor in-house gives patients confidence in knowing they are being treated by a registered doctor. Dr Wong could also prescribe other medicines to relieve, for example, an infected scalp, he points out. And for the tough nuts, whose hair shows no sign of springing back in youthful exuberance after a few months, Dr Wong doles out tablets of Minoxidil and prescribes stronger hair lotion at an extra $300 a bottle. 'I don't know exactly what's inside because it's the secret formula of Dr Ong,' To said. For the follically challenged, hair regrowth can take more than two years, he adds. If a patient is prescribed monthly packages containing the strong lotion, simple arithmetic shows he will pay out $66,600 over two years. Secretary of the Society of Dermatology and Venereology, Dr Paul Look Chun-ngok, is surprised. 'Definitely not 90 per cent,' he said. 'As far as we know in the world of Western medicine I have not come across any miracle drug that has such a high success rate for hair loss, the male baldness type. 'Not all hair loss is reversible, but hair loss from major illness is reversible. It will grow back in about six months; even without treatment one can have a very high success rate.' The anti-hypertensive drug Minoxidil is used in the hair lotion Regain, because it has a limited success in temporary regrowth, but is considered too dangerous to prescribe orally. 'It can lower blood pressure and has other side-effects,' Dr Look said. In the lobby outside Dr Wong's 18th-floor clinic, a quiet young woman clutches her Bioscor bag and folds a yellow credit card receipt as she awaits the lift. 'I'm collecting it for my boyfriend,' she said. She thinks his hair is a little better after six months. Her eyes widen and she bends closer. 'It's so expensive,' she confided. Concerns are weighing on the mind of Medical Council chairman Professor Rosie Young Tse-tse: the Church of Zion's hydrogen peroxide therapy, colonic irrigation for dieting women, chelation therapy and doctors who prescribe hair tonics. 'The only way to prevent these people from making money out of people's ignorance is to make people less ignorant,' she said. 'The Zionists say they can prevent cancer and AIDS,' she mused. 'How do you know whether you and I will develop cancer in our lifetimes? 'Money aside and faith aside . . . the few drops they give won't kill anybody. But even if it is not harmful, you delay your treatment of a disease which may be treatable. That is unethical.' Colonic irrigation, shown on local television and touted as a weight-reducer, was an unorthodox treatment which could prove dangerous, Professor Young said. 'They give a large amount of fluid, like an enema but higher [in the bowels]. 'It will wash out water, sodium, potassium and nutrients. Loss of these can be dangerous because they are necessary for the function of muscles, the function of the heart.' Medical Association chairman Dr Lee Kin-hung says he is seeking guidance from overseas specialists about chelation therapy. 'Some members have brought our attention to it and have raised doubts about whether this is a proper treatment,' he said. 'There are certain claims and we want to find out whether they are justified. If it's not useful as claimed, how can the charges be justified? 'And the harm: what harm could there be from this large volume of fluid going into the body? 'If the circulation is overloaded it strains the heart and kidneys,' Dr Lee explained. Every medical practitioner is entitled to use the treatment they believe will help their patients, and no restriction applies to price - provided both doctor and patient agree to the charge. 'This is a grey area,' mused Professor Young. 'It still has to be judged by peers. 'If a doctor says he believes in it, we have to look into why he believes this: what is the evidence for it? 'Money, I completely ignore. Because once you talk about money, motivation comes in. 'It's very difficult.'