This morning I was catching up on some emails from last week and one sent by a colleague was VERY concerning. A skin care clinic offering stem cell treatments for COVID-19! So let’s dig in…
Stem Cells and Coronavirus
There was a stem cell COVID-19 paper placed online last week that was not yet published nor peer-reviewed that I covered on this blog (1). It was an interesting case report of an elderly woman in Wuhan, China (the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak) who was on her death bed in the ICU. They gave her an infusion of culture-expanded MSCs derived from umbilical cords and she quickly recovered. In that blog, I made it VERY CLEAR that these cells were not available here in the US for clinical use. Why? I knew that chiro, cosmetic, and alternative health clinics would soon be offering COVID-19 treatments based on this paper and claiming that the dead cells they use are the same as the live cells used in this paper. Well, we’re there already!
The Ad Sent to My Colleague
This ad was sent by a skincare clinic called “AMA Skincare” in Irvine, California. This is a cosmetic clinic run by a husband-wife team including a non-physician entrepreneur founder and his pediatrician spouse. Interestingly, this is a skin care LASER clinic with a pediatrician medical director that is advertising that they now treat joints, autoimmune diseases, liver/kidney/heart/lung disease, and neurologic disorders with “stem cells”.
This is the ad I was sent which I will pull apart (ad in italics/bold and my comments in brackets ):
“Just in case…. the science is clear – Stem Cell treatments have been shown to cure even the most severe cases of Coronavirus Covid-19.”
[What is this statement based on? A new pilot study which was a small RCT of 7 patients who were given 50-100 million, culture-expanded MSCs (2). 5/7 of the patients had severe COVID-19 cases and two just had viral pneumonia (common type). The two common type patients were recovered and discharged and the other four were listed as recovered but seem to have still been in the hospital at the time the paper was submitted. Three severe cases were recruited for the placebo group and the outcomes were that one died, one still was in respiratory distress (ARDS), and one was listed as stable. The treated patients showed a decrease in the inflammatory cytokine storm so prevalent in COVID-19. So while this early research looks promising, the statement that stem cells have been shown to cure the most severe cases of COVID-19 is quite a stretch.]
“YES… we have the needed Mesenchymal Stem Cells.
NO… we are NOT treating virus infected patients in our office.
YES… these powerful Stem Cells can be administered at home.
MAYBE… depending on permission, these powerful Stem Cells can be administered at a hospital.”
[This is where this ad is very misleading. It claims that the clinic is in possession of allogeneic culture-expanded mesenchymal stem cells like the ones used in this study. What did the doctors in the study use? It appears they used mesenchymal stem cells modified with an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE-2).
The only legal access that the skincare clinic could have to something they believe contains mesenchymal stem cells is a Wharton’s Jelly (WJ) product described on their website. Does this WJ product have mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)? Does it have modified ACE-2 MSCs? Nope. It has neither.
What is Wharton’s Jelly?
The clinic here uses a product that contains Wharton’s Jelly which is found in umbilical cords. The idea is that this is MSC rich when it’s taken right from a live birth. However, when it’s processed, bottled, frozen, transported, and then shocked thawed in a clinic like this, it’s ALL DEAD. More on that below.
Commercially Available Wharton’s Jelly Products DO NOT Have Live and Functional MSCs
Many authors have published or presented at large scientific conferences that commercially available birth tissue products do not have live and functional mesenchymal stem cells (3-5). This is a study performed first in our advanced stem cell lab and then replicated at the Colorado State University Translational Medicine Institute:
What does this show? Five commercially available Wharton’s Jelly and Umbilical Cord blood products are on the left. The lab culture there shows all white, which means no stem cells. The test wells on the right with the purple dots show the growth of stem cells from middle-aged and elderly bone marrow. Hence, any product that this clinic could buy doesn’t have any live and functional MSCs nor does it have any that have been genetically modified with the ACE-2 gene.
So Is This a Scam?
Merriam-Webster defines “scam” as a “fraudulent or deceptive act or operation”. (6). So is it fraudulent or deceptive to say that the research is conclusive that MSCs can cure coronavirus? Yes. Is it deceptive to say your Wharton’s Jelly product with no live or viable MSCs is the same thing as a living, genetically modified MSC product created in China? Yes. My biggest concern is that some loved ones will get diagnosed with COVID-19 over the next few weeks and then go buy a bottle of Wharton’s Jelly from this clinic and take it home and inject it into themselves or others.
Avoid Chiro, Cosmetic, and Alternative Health Clinics Offering COVID-19 Treatments!
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with COVID-19, there’s only one thing you should be doing. Seeing your board-certified family or internal medicine PHYSICIAN or hospital ER about what to do next. That doesn’t include a trip to your chiro, cosmetic LASER place staffed by a pediatrician, or your acupuncturist. Please take this seriously, especially if you’re over the age of 65 and/or have chronic health conditions.
You will likely see many clinics offering fake “stem cell” treatments for COVID-19 over the next few weeks. Please do not buy into these sales pitches. Again, if you need to be in the hospital, that’s where you should be.
The upshot? As I always say, you can’t make this stuff up! This sales e-mail is VERY concerning. We all need to work together to get through this crisis and that doesn’t include those trying to profit off of it by selling or promoting misleading products!
(1) Liang B, et al. Clinical remission of a critically ill COVID-19 patient treated by
human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells. https://3n30av2dln0g4fmlc03hpv0p-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/202002.00084v1.pdf.pdf. Accessed 3/15/20.
(2) Leng Z et al. Transplantation of ACE2- Mesenchymal Stem Cells Improves the Outcome of Patients with COVID-19 Pneumonia. Aging and Disease.
2020 , 0 (0): 216-228 https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2020.0228
(3) Berger D, Lyons N, Steinmetz, N. In Vitro Evaluation of Injectable, Placental Tissue-Derived Products for Interventional Orthopedics. Interventional Orthopedics Foundation Annual Meeting. Denver, 2015. https://interventionalorthopedics.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/AmnioProducts-Poster.pdf
(4) Becktell L, Matuska A, Hon S, Delco M, Cole B, Fortier L. Proteomic analysis and cell viability of nine amnion-derived biologics. Orthopedic Research Society Annual Meeting, New Orleans, 2018. https://app.box.com/s/vcx7uw17gupg9ki06i57lno1tbjmzwaf
(5) Panero, A, Hirahara, A., Andersen, W, Rothenberg J, Fierro, F. Are Amniotic Fluid Products Stem Cell Therapies? A Study of Amniotic Fluid Preparations for Mesenchymal Stem Cells With Bone Marrow Comparison. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2019 47(5), 1230–1235. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546519829034
(6) Miriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scam Accesed 3/15/20.