The Umbilical Cord Product CFU Scam

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The regenerative medicine space is still a mess with providers who are increasingly using what they believe are “stem cells” not knowing what they don’t know. Today I’d like to review a conversation I had with a local acupuncturist that reveals how bad this is out there. This involves a “CFU.” Let me explain.

The Cord Stem Cell Product Scam

I’ve covered this many times, but umbilical cord products have no living and viable stem cells. I’ve seen the companies hawking this dead tissue claim simple/live dead viabilities of a whopping 40–45%! While to the untrained eye this may sound great, it’s actually really awful and means that whatever this company is selling is cellular junk. See my video below explaining this further:

One of the more recent scams is a company showing a picture of a “CFU” as proof that its product contains live stem cells. What is a CFU? Watch my video below to understand that better:

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Hosannah a CFU!

A great Frank Lloyd Wright story from the ’30s is that he had few clients, and one day a university professor asked if the great Mr. Wright could design him a house. Wright wrote back that he could fit him in somewhere and then proceeded to post the letter from the professor on the bulletin board and scrawled across it, “Hosannah, a client!” The CFU picture shared by this company claiming to have live stem cells in its umbilical cord product is in this category.

I’ve been involved with university-style in vitro stem cell research since 2005. As a result, when I saw the image above (lower left), I laughed. However, I’ve talked to a few physicians and recently an acupuncturist who believe this is evidence of something. Hence, I had our lab this week take a picture of actual stem cell CFUs (the dots on the flask above in the top right). I then had them magnify one of those CFUs under the microscope (lower right above). If you compare the clump of tens of cells that the umbilical cord company claims is a CFU to the actual McCoy containing hundreds to thousands of stem cells, you’ll see why I laughed.

The Acupuncturist Who Didn’t Know What He Didn’t Know

I evaluated the MRI of a patient this week who had an ankle fusion, and the remaining joints were iffy for precise image-guided stem cell procedures. I told my staff that we would try less expensive, high-dose PRP first to see if we could convince ourselves that this patient might respond to something before pulling the trigger on a much more expensive stem cell procedure. That’s when I learned that a local acupuncturist had already taken more than five thousand dollars of this poor woman’s money for a cord “stem cell” injection using the above product. So I called this provider on the phone and told him that these products didn’t contain any living stem cells. He felt that he was justified in calling it a stem cell procedure because the company had reported CFUs. That’s the picture above. Clearly, this acupuncturist didn’t know what he didn’t know.

The upshot? The stem cell space is out of hand. In this case, an acupuncturist who had no idea that the evidence of living cells in the product he claimed was stem cells was sketchy at best and laughable at worst. He’s, regrettably, not alone, as we have countless orthopedic surgeons, pain-management physicians, and other boobs who haven’t taken the time to educate themselves who have fallen for the same scam. The problem is that they pass on this ruse to unsuspecting little old ladies whose ankles likely can’t be fixed with stem cells!

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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. View Profile

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