Stem Cell “Experts” Bending Reality…

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stem cell treatment scams

The last few years have seen an explosion of clinics with physicians all claiming to be experts in stem cell treatment. Some of these are orthopedic focused, but most, not wanting to miss a business opportunity, have decided to offer care to all sorts of vulnerable sick patients. I’d like to dissect some web-sites that are great examples of a disturbing phenomenon.

First, having performed my first autologous stem cell treatment in the spine and in the knee/hip ten years ago gives me a unique perspective. At that point, not a single soul in the United States was performing orthopedic stem cell treatment and certainly not any of the doctors whose web-sites I’ll review. So let’s go through this and learn how these sites bend reality:

Doctor #1 site, from the lead physician’s Bio:

“He continues to explore new frontiers in stem cell therapy, authoring more than 20 research publications.”

A US National Library of Medicine search on the doctors publications shows that this statement is completely false. In fact, I can find only two publications on stem cells authored by the doctor on the same 26 patients! One from 2014 and one from 2015. So where are the other 18 publications?

“Thanks to his research and dedication to non-fusion surgical options, he recently became the first spine surgeon in the United States to treat a patient’s lower back pain and degenerative disc disease with biologics. During a phase 2 clinical trial, he successfully used Mesoblast Limited’s Adult Mesenchymal Precursor Cell (MPC) product to reverse the degenerative process, re-grow disc cartilage and sustain normalization of disc pathology, anatomy and function.” 

Given the fact that we treated our first degenerative disc patient with stem cells way back in 2005, this physician certainly wasn’t the first doctor to treat DDD. If we look at the US National Library of Medicine, surgeon Yoshikawa in Japan published on two cases of DDD treated with stem cells in 2010, several years before the doctor being reviewed had done it. Maybe the term “biologics” doesn’t mean stem cells despite the context of the web-site being stem cells? While the first statement is vague enough to be tough to disprove, the second one is easy to verify as it involves Mesoblast’s disc product that I recently reviewed. The phase 2 clinical trail specifically did not show any evidence of reversing the degenerative process or regrowing “disc cartilage” (I suspect that this statement was written by staff as the disc doesn’t have cartilage-there was no evidence that the treatment made the disc nucleus better), nor was there any evidence of normaliztion of disc pathology, anatomy, and function. In fact, all the trial showed was that this injection of someone else’s stem cells in the disc was a hyper-expensive pain relieving shot that if you squint, made a obscure x-ray finding a tiny hair of a hair better? Maybe?

So our web-site #1, right off the bat is definitely bending reality. Suffice it to say that the remainder of the site does the same. Now let’s go to web-site #2 of another doctor:

“For many patients with debilitating knee osteoarthritis, treatment options are limited: steroid injections, joint replacement surgery (and replacement alternatives), physical therapy, etc. At XXX Orthopaedic Institute, new cutting-edge treatment options like amniotic membrane stem cell injections may be used to successfully treat patients with knee osteoarthritis, Achilles tendonitis, rotator cuff tendonitis, and degenerative arthritis.

For clarification, this type of stem cell comes from the amniotic sac – not an embryo. While some people may have ethical issues with embryonic stem cell therapy, most everyone agrees that the use of amniotic stem cell therapy raises no ethical or moral questions.”

Amniotic stem cell therapy? Sounds really innovative. Digging further, this clinic uses an off the shelf purchased amniotic tissue product called BioD factors, which our advanced lab tested for viability, showing absolutely no viable cells or tissue, let alone stem cells. So what’s being advertised as an amniotic stem cell treatment is actually an injection of dead amniotic tissue. OK, this guy wins my second bending reality award of the morning!

The upshot? As I go around the web with the knowledge acquired over a decade of treating patients and publishing research in orthopedic stem cell use, it’s pretty scary. Our first doctor highlighted isn’t atypical in buffing up his resume on research and exaggerating the benefits of a product he was paid to test. At least he has two publications on the same small group of patients as most physicians around the web claiming to be experts have none. Right now we’re sitting at 15 peer reviewed publications on stem cells. The second bending reality award winner above is perhaps worse. This guy was obviously told by the sales rep selling the amniotic “stem cell” product that it contained viable stem cells, but never had the sense to check that claim by performing a simple internet search of the FDA registration and certainly had no ability to have his research scientists (there are none) check that claim. So dead fetal tissue injections are being hawked as viable stem cells. What can you do to ferret out reality from reality bending? Just send me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll check it out for you. If it’s interesting, I’ll even blog it!

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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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