September 27, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Testimony in supermodel stem cell fraud case: “I lied to patients”

“I lied to patients,” testified a weeping, young woman in court related to a fraud allegation involving stem cells.

She had worked as an office assistant at a company that injected bogus and potentially dangerous cow-based “stem cell” treatments into human patients.

This company, which in different incarnations went by various names including Biomark in the U.S., was at the center of a dramatic global case of alleged stem cell fraud and criminal misconduct.

stem cell fraud

The Biomark case swept across the globe including the U.S., the Netherlands, and South Africa.

Importantly the two defendants in the Biomark case were Americans, Stephen van Rooyen and his “supermodel” wife, Laura Brown (pictured at left partying together). 

The plaintiff was one Justine Asher. She sued van Rooyen and Brown, who ran the company called Biomark International in the U.S. until it was shut down in 2003 related to alleged criminal activity.

Prior to treating Asher in the Netherlands, van Rooyen and Brown had several years earlier reportedly fled the U.S. as fugitives to escape a federal criminal indictment (you can read it here) listing dozens of charges for their actions at Biomark. Brown at some point adopted the alias “Sean Castle” and Van Rooyen became “Sebastian Carlisle” according to court testimony. It’s unclear why they chose those names, but both had the same S.C. initials that could also stand for “Stem Cell”. The U.S. then reportedly was working to have Brown and van Rooyen extradited back to the U.S. as recently as last year.

Asher, who likely was unaware of Brown and van Rooyen’s earlier alleged criminal conduct in the U.S. related to stem cell treatments, was given a “stem cell” transplant in the Netherlands around 2006. van Rooyen and Brown allegedly told Asher that the treatment would make Asher miraculously walk again. Ms. Asher is a paraplegic due to injuries suffered in a car accident that broke her neck.

The treatment that Asher received sounds plenty scary. It was reportedly a “cocktail” that included bovine cells grown in fetal bovine serum that was injected into her neck and IV into her arm.

Muddying the waters, the new company in the Netherlands that van Rooyen and Brown opened up at which Asher apparently got treatment was called Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT), not to be confused with the current, legit stem cell company HQ’d in the U.S. going by the same acronym, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), which is now conducting several early stage clinical trials based on hESC.

The woman who testified that she inadvertently lied to patients while working as a personal assistant for Brown and van Rooyen at Biomark was one Danielle Jibrail. She also testified that Biomark became the “new” company called ACT specifically for the purpose of avoiding negative reports about Biomark in the press.

Reportedly Brown and van Rooyen also gave many (more than 50 in the U.S. alone) patients “stem cell treatments” for MS and ALS.

According to her testimony, Jibrail came to discover later that van Rooyen and Brown gave patients potentially dangerous treatments and collected large sums of money from the patients, while they lived an “extravagant lifestyle”:

Jibrail told the court she later spoke to a doctor who worked for ACT, Catherine Orridge, who told her the stem cells came from California, and were meant for research purposes. They were not fit for humans. Jibrail said she logged on to the Internet and looked into the matter.

“Then I knew that Laura or Steve did not care about the patients they were treating,” she said, becoming emotional.

“They lived very extravagant lifestyles and spent the money patients paid them on entertainment.”

After that Jibrail contacted the FBI and emailed ACT patients the “truth”, before later resigning.

Getting back to the patient Asher who sued, reportedly she won her case last year.

As a result, van Rooyen and Brown had to sell their mansion in 2011 to pay the damages.

Adding further intrigue to the case, Brown reportedly died under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter in Cape Town in 2011. The extradition lawyer website reporting the death said:

Brown, who had been separated from Van Rooyen, is said to have been suffering from depression since she lost their plush Llandudno mansion due to financial problems.

To my knowledge to date the cause of death for Brown remains unknown or at least not publicly available.

There are several lessons from this dramatic and tragic case.

  • Going international won’t protect you if you are giving dubious stem cell treatments. As is illustrated by this Biomark case and also from the more recent RNL case in which a Korean company treated non-U.S. citizens in Mexico, dubious stem cell clinics conducting business outside the U.S. are not safe from litigation simply by being outside the U.S. Patients can sue such clinics. Note, the Biomark case was not directly related to the stem cell fraud case filed against RNL Bio, the company that is (or at least was) running Celltex’s stem cell clinic in Texas (see recent post on the RNL case).
  • Dubious clinic operators can lose their own personal savings due to patient lawsuits. Patients can sue the individual people who are the clinics operators personally for allegedly misconduct related to stem cells. As a result, clinic operators can literally “lose the ranch” from stem cell misconduct. They can lose their homes to pay for court judgments.
  • Stem cell companies often go by various names for dubious reasons that have nothing to do with the well being of patients. If I were a patient considering a stem cell treatment I’d do extensive research on the Internet first to see if the company offering the treatment has dirty laundry hidden away under some previous company name.
  • As a potential patient considering a stem cell transplant use extreme caution! Read my websites patient’s guide to stem cell treatments. Talk to your own personal physician. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. When in doubt, err on the side of not getting a dubious treatment.

I predict that within the next year we’ll see several more civil lawsuits filed by patients against stem cell clinics and doctors such as dermatologists and surgeons who are conducting dubious stem cell treatments.

As I’ve said before, there’s also a wicked paradox for stem cell clinics. The more patients they treat (which should be a good thing for them, right?) the more potential people there will be who can and in many cases likely will sue them at some future time.

A huge hat tip to Dr. Leigh Turner for his help researching this case!

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