With the promise that their stem cell therapy will “treat” incurable diseases, scam artists are preying on hopeful people with disabilities–and making big money.
Perhaps one of the most controversial and important fields of research therapy over the past couple of decades is stem cell research. It has been at the center of government controversy, humanitarian concerns, and has resulted in some amazing breakthroughs in the treatment of debilitating diseases and conditions. Stem cell treatments have been successfully used to treat Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular illnesses, and even cancer and diabetes.
However, it seems that now, even the field of medical research is not immune to legitimate-sounding scam artists, who are offering phony stem cell treatments to patients as miracle cure-alls reminiscent of an Old West snake-oil story.
These treatments, which use mesenchymal stem cells, are being sold for as much as $150,000 and more to desperate patients with degenerative incurable conditions. Mesenchymal stem cells are a kind of stem cell that is considered “multipotent”–it can evolve into a variety of cell types from fat to bone to muscle to cartilage. The scammers claim that, because of this, the cells can be used to treat and even cure a variety of ailments.
This scam is particularly effective because researchers have, in fact, been experimenting with mesenchymal stem cells to treat various bone ailments. In truth, however, the experimental treatments, even in legitimate science, have proven ineffective as a treatment for these kinds of diseases. While there have been some promising developments in the realm of tissue and bone health, there has been no success at all in using the cells to treat nerve or brain tissue. In addition, it is currently highly illegal to use these types of stem cells in a clinical setting outside of research.
The result is a kind of perfect storm, whereby “clinics” operating under the radar offer illegal experimental treatments to desperate patients with disabilities such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia, who are more than willing to take a chance on a miracle cure for their illness. Indeed, one company reputedly issued a claim that more than 100 diseases can be cured by using these experimental illegal treatments.
Unfortunately, there’s a good reason why mesenchymal stem cell treatments are illegal—they are extremely dangerous. Scientists don’t know enough about them to accurately predict how they will behave when injected into an individual.
A recent study from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and the Medical University of Vienna actually demonstrated that, when mouse models of multiple sclerosis were injected with these cells, they developed brain tumors from the treatments. Further, while the treatment seemed to show some effect on mildly affected animals, those with more severe infections showed no positive change whatsoever.
In the end, being diagnosed with an ailment like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis can be devastating, but if the advertised cure is potentially worse than the disability, it’s not worth the risk. Watch the video to see a segment from TV’s 60 Minutes that exposes a stem cell scam artist.