The Umbilical Cord Product CFU Scam

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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:

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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8 thoughts on “The Umbilical Cord Product CFU Scam

  1. Mike Vogel

    Are there viable umbilical cord suppliers?

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      No, at this point we have seen no convincing evidence that any cord products contain any viable and functional stem cells. While there are tests that can be done using ISCT standards to clearly show viable and functional stem cells, every supplier I have seen to date has avoided this battery of tests. Some will do a part of one of the tests (flow cytometry) but will leave out critical markers making the test results meaningless. All won’t do the culture test, other than the company above who points to this tiny clump of cells that isn’t a CFU (there would need to be colonies like you see in the flask above). None of them do trilineage differentiation which is also required.

  2. Adele Casden

    Why would anyone let a acupuncturist inject ANYTHING into their joints? They’re not qualified too do this type of procedure. Are there companies that are known to have good amniotic fluid? Should I be asking my orthopedic doctor to show me exactly what he’s using when he says he’s injecting amniotic fluid?
    I would hope that the government is moniatoring this type of procedure.
    Also, I I want the medical community to collect information, showing the statistical outcome from PRP or any other type of a procedure, where doctors inject patients with PRP or any other type of material. This whole thing should be carefully monitored to protect patients, from being mislead,

    1. Regenexx Team

      Adele,
      Agree. Unfortunately, all amniotic and cord blood products being used right now have no viable stem cells. They do contain some growth factors.

  3. George Mitchell

    Are you saying that the umbilical cord stem cell banks cultured and expanded by at the Stem Cell Institute, Panama are fake? if so, why has the FDA granted permission for the treatment of two Muscular Dystrophy patients in the United States using his umbilical
    cord product?

    1. Regenexx Team

      George,
      No, isolated, culture expanded, and frozen umbilical cord cells are a completely different matter. This Blog has to do with the fresh frozen umbilical cord samples that are allowed to be sold in the United States right now.

  4. George Mitchell

    Is it true that in the United States you are not allowed to culture expand the mesenchymal stem cells obtained from a patient’s own bone marrow aspirate before reinjecting them into the patient? If this is true, how many viable mesenchymal stem cells are you able to obtain from a typical bone marrow aspiration ? I understand the numbers need to be in the 50 to 150 million cells range to be an effective treatment.

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      Yes, you can’t culture expand cells in the U.S. You don’t need 50-150 million mesenchymal stem cells to have an effective treatment. As an example, our registry-based dosing study for knee arthritis showed that 400 million total nucleated cells and above were effective. How many MSCs are in that amount of total nucleated cells? Likely tens to several hundred thousand depending on age and health. We use culture expanded stem cells at our licensed Grand Cayman site when we have many areas to treat, when the disease is very severe, or in certain clinical indications where these are required. Again, as stated above, amniotic and cord products have zero viable stem cells, so there are far more sitting in your bone marrow.

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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