Nearly a year ago, 60 Minutes ran a story on fake stem cell treatments being targeted at terminally ill patients. Last week, three men were taken into custody by the FBI, with a fourth still on the loose.
Stem cell treatments could cure dozens or even hundreds of debilitating diseases from paralysis to diabetes to HIV. The problem is that these technologies take time, and they are not the magical cure-alls that we hear about in science fiction. Unfortunately, that has not stopped people from taking advantage of the general public's naivety regarding regenerative medicine.
It has become a trend in recent years to claim that health products contain stem cells as a magical active ingredient. On the less ethically-troublesome side, beauty products claim that creams and gels will make skin perfect through the "science" of stem cells. These products cost between $38-$160 per 1-5oz container, and say they will help skin regenerate back to their perfect form. Clinical trial data is almost never provided, and some products may not even contain any stem cells. This company uses "only adult human stem cells", but some products may include animal cells instead.
While fake beauty creams are bad, far worse is promising cures to fatal diseases that offer no hope of working. The three men arrested obtained umbilical cord blood and used it to produce stem cells illegally. They then marketed the cells as cures to ALS, MS, Parkinson's and others, all while pretending to be doctors. The men would meet people in the US, then travel to Mexico to perform the procedures.
Medical tourism, or travelling to another country for medical treatment, is a common problem for the stem cell industry. Late last year Peyton Manning travelled to Europe in the hopes of curing a neck problem that was not healing with traditional surgery. The team has since announced that the treatment was unsuccessful, which is no surprise to stem cell researchers.
Luckily, these terrible men are being brought to justice , and real stem cell experts are speaking out against these "miracle cures". Last year, Doug Sipp, from RIKEN's Science Policy and Ethics Studies Unit, gave a presentation on illegal marketing practices for fake stem cell "cures" at the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Congress in Boston. Many fear that public opinion of stem cells will be tarnished by the negative (or potentially dangerous) effects of these unapproved treatments, so it is great that 60 Minutes and experts like Doug are working to educate the public on these fake claims.
Learn more about real stem cell treatments at the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Congress USA 2012!