Harry Adelson Stem Cell Review, the Biohacker, and the Chinese Hamburger

by Chris Centeno, MD /

ben greenfield stem cell

Many years ago I was in China for business and hadn’t eaten in two days. I ordered a hamburger from room service, and what arrived wasn’t quite a hamburger. That’s how I feel about a new biohacker video that shows Harry Adelson, a naturopath, performing a stem cell procedure. What I see isn’t quite a real spine stem cell procedure.

The Biohacker Gets Hacked

Ben Greenfield is a guy who tries new things to “hack” his body. The problem that I have seen with Ben is that often what’s happening is more of a marketing play than actual science or medicine. Take, for example, a fake stem cell treatment that Ben told his followers was an actual live stem cell treatment. The problem? Ben didn’t have the science or medical background to know the difference:

Who Is Harry Adelson, ND?

Harry is a naturopath in Utah. He first came on my radar about five years ago when I learned that he was performing image-guided spinal injection procedures normally only performed by physicians who had years of subspecialty training. At the time, the more I learned, the more I became concerned. In fact, one of my colleagues reached out to the Utah medical board, who, despite the risks posed by a much lesser trained naturopath performing procedures that could harm patients, decided not to act.

Is an ND Qualified to Perform Spinal Procedures?

Another big issue that we need to discuss before we delve into how the biohacker got hacked a second time by a Chinese Hamburger is whether a naturopath (an ND) is qualified to perform spinal procedures. First, it’s important to note that a naturopath does not have the same extensive training as a medical doctor. In particular, a medical doctor goes through four years of college, is generally at the top of that class, and then goes to four years of medical school and then usually four more years of residency training and often more specialist fellowship training. The average naturopath has a fraction of this training.

For an in-depth review of the Utah naturopathic practice act and common regenerative medicine procedures, please see this blog post.

The Chinese Hamburger

Several years ago, I was in a fancy hotel in Beijing, China, and starving. Why? During a whirlwind tour of training physicians in China, my Chinese counterparts had offered everything from caterpillar larvae to sea urchins to eat, but I demurred. So that’s why once making it back to the big city and safely back to civilization, I ordered a hamburger from room service. However, what I got wasn’t really a hamburger.

What did I get? I got a strange version of a quasi-beef patty placed on a plate that tasted nothing like a hamburger. I got a bun that was basically a Chinese sticky bun on another side of the plate. There was also something that looked like ketchup that was elsewhere on the plate (but tasted nothing like ketchup). Finally, the garnishes looked more like a salad than anything else and were all wrong. No pickles, no iceberg lettuce, no onions. So all the components were there in theory, but not in practice.

What I observed on Ben Greenfield’s new video of his stem cell treatment with Harry Adelson was very much a Chinese Hamburger. Meaning, it claims to be a spine stem cell therapy but is somehow not. Let me explain.

Not Quite a Spine Stem Cell Therapy Procedure

This video is of Ben Greenfield getting a bone marrow stem cell procedure of “his entire spine and all of his major joints” from Mr. Adelson.  After viewing the video, there are so many areas where this procedure is a Chinese Hamburger, I lost count. Let’s start with the beginning.

The BMA

A bone marrow stem cell procedure starts with a bone marrow aspirate (BMA). How that procedure is done is absolutely critical to maximize (or in this case minimize) the number of stem cells harvested. The way you get the most stem cells is to take very small amounts of bone marrow aspirate from as many sites as feasible. Mr. Adelson at first appears to be doing this procedure right with fluoroscopy guidance. He takes a hammer (not really needed) and inserts a thick needle called a trocar into the bone. He then takes what appears to be a 50 ml syringe (too big) and pulls out of the bone marrow from four to five spots as he extracts the trocar:

While those about 10 ml pulls are slightly diluting the sample of stem cells (the max you should take is 5–10 ml per stop), if he had stopped there, he would have been fine. However, Harry creates a real Chinese Hamburger by drawing at least 4 more (and possibly 7–8 more, depending on how accurately the video is sequenced) from the same spot! He seems to drive the trocar into the same track, draws 30–40 ml in some sites and lower volumes at others, but all of this marrow is drawn from this same trocar that just traverses the old sites again and again. This is a HUGE NO NO, in that he drew maybe 50 ml of stem cell-containing marrow and at least 200–400 ml of mostly stem cell-poor blood.

In addition, this is a HUGE amount of marrow to draw from a single patient! Our only experience with drawing this much marrow was early on in our experience some 14 years ago. What we discovered is that it’s possible to immunocompromise the patient at these volumes. How much should be drawn? Maximum 60–120 ml of marrow from a single patient, especially since blood was also obviously drawn to make PRP.

The “Processing”

As discussed, this is a very stem cell-poor bone marrow sample that is mostly blood. While I can’t observe the processing being performed, I can see where it is being done. There is a very small hood in the right-hand side of the film frame below:

The problem? This isn’t an adequate biosafety cabinet type to protect the patient’s sample. This is, in fact, the type that might be used to protect an experiment from contamination (like PCR), but an actual laminar flow hood to protect patient samples looks like this:

The big difference? Air handling. A laminar flow hood moves air in one direction while filtering it before it enters the work area and then either recirculates it while filtering it again and again or spits it out the front. So is this a laminar flow hood with a HEPA filter? I can only say that I would NEVER allow one of our affiliates to work in a small hood like this one.

The Injection Procedure

Mr. Adelson says that he is injecting Ben Greenfield’s “whole spine,” but that’s not actually true. First, you need to understand what can be injected in the spine:

  1. Discs—these can bulge, herniate, or degenerate
  2. Epidural—around irritated nerves
  3. Facet joints—these can become arthritic
  4. Ligaments—these can become lax and make the spine sloppy
  5. Muscles—the deep stabilizing muscles can become weak
  6. Tendons—the tendons that attach to the muscles can become painful

ben greenfield stem cell treatment

So what is being injected here? These are called Hackett points. The dots that were made on the back follow a predictable pattern described back in the 1930s and 40s by a doctor performing injections in the spine, a Dr. Hackett. These are spine tendon injections. What about the discs, around the nerves, facet joints, ligaments, or deep stabilizing muscles? Those are never injected. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

In summary, this is a substandard spinal injection. If Ben’s neck, upper back, or low back hurts, it could be any one of the six structures I listed, but only one was injected. Could this be done for health? It’s unclear what the objective would be—make the tendons better, but ignore the other structures? In addition, Mr. Adelson is expressly violating his practice act here by injecting tendons.

The Biohacker Is Again Hacked

I’m getting a little tired of following Ben Greenfield’s videos of bad regenerative medicine treatments. In this one, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. That’s concerning, as about ten thousand of his followers have watched him get a bad stem cell procedure that they don’t know is substandard at every level. They believe this is a real hamburger.

Ben has no idea that the bone marrow draw is very poorly done to minimize the stem cell content. Simply taking more time with this procedure, drawing from more sites, and drawing from both sides of the pelvis could have made sure that Ben actually got many times the stem cell number he actually received. As an example, as an instructor who has taught many doctors how to properly perform this procedure, if I saw any one of my students doing a bone marrow aspiration this way, he or she would be flunked. In addition, since Mr. Adelson’s practice act doesn’t permit him to perform this procedure in the first place, I would never allow Harry to walk in the door to be trained.

Ben has no idea that where his bone marrow was processed is a space likely not appropriate for that task. Is this a laminar flow hood? Is it HEPA filtered? Who is doing the processing? What is their training? Where are the lab SOPs?

Ben also has no clue that the procedure that was promised, a stem cell procedure treating his entire spine, actually only treated one-sixth of his spine. Where are the injections of the facet joints, discs, nerves, ligaments, and stabilizing muscles? Not in this video.

The upshot? This procedure is a Chinese Hamburger from start to finish. Ben Greenfield has an ethical responsibility to his viewers and followers to inform them that an actual physician expert in this field has reviewed the spine part of his “whole body stem cell makeover” and concluded that he really didn’t get what was advertised. Instead, he got what we used to call a “fake and bake.” Yet again, the biohacker got hacked. Then there’s the issue of whether Ben knows that, near as I can tell, the procedure he received was not compliant with the Utah naturopathy practice act. You can’t make this stuff up…

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1 thought on “Harry Adelson Stem Cell Review, the Biohacker, and the Chinese Hamburger

  1. kevin

    I had stem cell treatment from Dr Adelson in Park City, Ut. I remember my iliac crest being hammered as two nurses sat on my arms to keep me from jumping off the table. It was treatment for insertional Achilles tendinopathy. Sadly it didn’t work but eventually I had PRP/ozone treatments which seemed to heal the tendon.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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