This week, while down in Grand Cayman helping patients with our state-of-the-art culture-expanded stem cell procedure using state-of-the-art imaging and advanced interventional orthopedics techniques to take and place cells, for just a few hours, I questioned whether I should stop alerting consumers to the problematic stem cell clinic schemes I see pop up every day. Should the blog instead be purely informational, only highlighting new research studies and patient results? I slept on it and awoke to a new level of graft—stem cell providers who don’t offer anything like our technology and procedures stealing our before and after MRIs!
How Did We Get Here?
So far I’ve seen the following stem cell clinic problems that consumers need to be wary of:
- The Research Bait and Switch—Websites that appear to have a bunch of published research listed, but when you dig just a little deeper, all or almost all of the research has nothing to do with the stem cell types used in the clinic.
- The Insta-Expert—A provider claims to be a stem cell expert, but once you dig deeper, he or she meets none of the established criteria for same (i.e., research expertise and publications) and basically took a weekend course.
- The Insta-tute—A clinic that claims to be a stem cell institute, or similar lofty sounding nomenclature, but would meet none of the criteria for same. No research is being conducted, no young physicians are being taught, and no expertise is being demonstrated. It’s just a name slapped on a doctor’s office.
- The Cure-All Clinic—The clinic lists 20–40 different incurable or chronic diseases that it treats, usually with IV stem cells, when very little evidence exists that most of these diseases will respond to stem cells.
- Fake Stem Cells R Us—These clinics advertise the miracles of “amniotic stem cells” with one little teeny, weeny, itsy, bitsy problem—the stuff they’re injecting doesn’t have a living cell in it! Yep, while amniotic fluid may or may not help your pain, it isn’t a stem cell therapy. However, without calling it a stem cell therapy, they would have few paying customers.
- The Fake Stem Cell Fellowship—While a real medical fellowship requires 1–3 years of dedication as a student getting paid to learn and thousands of hours of work, these physicians have paid for a single or a series of weekend courses and advertise that they are “fellowship trained.” Are they really? Nope…
Now I get to add a new one! The imaging bait and switch!
Understanding Why the Imaging Bait and Switch is a Problem
In order to get to replicable results, we do the following:
- We hand select providers who know interventional guided procedures. This means we turn away about 8 in 10 interested doctors because they don’t have the base training to do this well. So no gastroenterologists or plastic surgeons injecting knees!
- We train those providers on our specific procedures using cadaver courses and supplemental videos. The injection-mastery list is some 80 items long (i.e., 80 separate procedures need to be mastered and demonstrated to us before a provider is Regenexx certified in all body areas). We take this seriously. As an example, I recently flunked one provider after that physician couldn’t demonstrate to me competence in performing specific procedures. That provider was dropped off the network.
- This specific high grade rotator cuff Regenexx protocol is very technically difficult and involves many non-intuitive steps.
- We all use the same advanced processing protocols that benefit from continual improvements through Regenexx lab research. Very few of these unique biologics can be replicated outside of our network.
Those Look Like Regenexx Images!
The images below were noticed on several identical looking web-sites this past week. They are our images of shoulder rotator cuff tears before and after a very specific protocol of the Regenexx-SD procedure. How did our patient’s MRI images make it onto web-sites offering everything from amniotic dead cell therapy to IV fat stem cell snake oil? Read on…
When I saw these images of our patient’s before/after shoulder rotator cuff tears, I was a bit dumbfounded for the following reasons:
- The physicians who had pilfered the images would never make it into our network. They don’t have the requisite training to perform advanced interventional orthopedics.
- The physicians haven’t been trained in our techniques to take and place stem cells using precise imaging guidance.
- The clinics don’t use the same cell technologies. Most of what’s being used at these clinics bears no resemblance to what we treated these patients with at our clinic.
The Ethics Behind Claiming a Patient Result as Your Own
So if you don’t have the skill set to match the procedure being performed and don’t use the same technology, is it OK to make patient’s believe that the before and after MRI images are your own? Of course not! First, everything on our site is copyrighted, but putting that one detail aside for the moment, these sites at the very least needed to make patients aware that the results being shown didn’t use their technology. Think of it this way: the car dealer shows you an image of a Ferrari, but he’s really selling a Ford Fiesta!
Who is Behind the Unauthorized and Improper Use of these Images?
Once we tracked down why our shoulder rotator cuff images landed on several different web-sites hawking inferior and at times fake stem cell therapies, the origin of the unauthorized use didn’t disappoint. Turns out that a physician who is a full time businessman and who runs a lead generation network is responsible. What’s that? A marketing company for physician practices that has recently entered the stem cell space.
This brings up an interesting new twist for consumers seeking stem cell treatments. We’ve seen similar advertising schemes before, the biggest issue being that little time and energy goes into screening physicians for specific qualifications or training and patients are usually blind to who will treat them until they at least put down a deposit. In addition, looking at this network a panoply of different technologies is being employed-IV fat stem cells, bone marrow and fat same day procedures, dead amniotic tissue, etc… For each of these, different protocols are also used.
This type of network only works for patients if they believe that a stem cell is a stem cell and a doctor is a doctor when it comes to these therapies. Given the diverse background of the doctors who have our image on their page and the fact that some of them have no clear expertise in interventional orthopedics and that none of them would make it onto our Regenexx network as well as none of them use our advanced technology, buyer beware!
The upshot? I think this Godfather quote is apt: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” Just when I thought I could go back to just blogging about cool stem cell and orthopedic stuff, the explosion in ethically challenged stem cell clinics hits a new low. At this point, a vigilant and educated consumer is what’s needed!