September 25, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Olbermann Puff Interview on Stemedica & Gordie Howe

The stem cell company Stemedica has made a name for itself in the media lately through hockey legend Gordie Howe, who received a non-FDA approved stem cell “treatment” in Mexico via Stemedica and its partner, Novastem.

Howe, known as Mr. Hockey, had several strokes in late 2014 and his health was declining. Stemedica and Novastem gave Howe a free stem cell therapy. According to his family, Howe got a lot better.

I’m glad he’s feeling better.

What I’m less sure of is whether the stem cells or something else such as rehydration or simply some degree of natural recovery from the stroke helped Howe.

Science-based medicine examined this case in two pieces that I recommend (here and here).

Stemedica Olbermann
Stemedica Olbermann interview.

A new  interview on this case–image above and video below–by Keith Olbermann in which he talked to Stemedica CEO Maynard Howe (no relation to Gordie Howe) sure seems like a big PR win for the company.

If you watch it, it basically feels like an ad for Stemedica.

I am a big fan of Olbermann, but he dropped the ball (err, puck) on this one.

I have no issue with Gordie Howe and I wish him the best. What makes me concerned is that this kind of interview is almost certain to drive many regular folks to get potentially risky, unproven stem cell “treatments”.

I asked internationally respected, translational stem cell scientist Jeanne Loring for her opinions on this Olbermann TV interview and here’s what she had to say:

“Since Stemedica is known to sue people who criticize them (I hope they don’t sue me for saying that), I will be very careful about how I present the facts.  There are two things that worry me.  First, the Stemedica representative did not say that in addition to the mesenchymal stem cells they used for treating Gordie Howe, they also used cells from aborted fetuses, which is one of the reasons that the treatment was done in Mexico. I would expect that to raise some ethical concerns.
The second is that there will soon be solid evidence about whether or not mesenchymal stem cells reduce the severity of stoke.  A company called Athersys is currently finishing a Phase 2 trial that has been specifically designed to determine whether mesenchymal stem cells have any effect on stroke  https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01436487?term=athersys&rank=2.
Stemedica’s trial in the US is essentially a repeat of what Athersys has already done- show safety  https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01297413?term=stemedica&rank=1.  This is a “safe” choice for a safety trial, since it’s already been done.
There is a third issue that I want people to understand, and this is personal.  If you’ve ever had a family member have a stroke, you know that there are often periods of great improvement in the months following the stroke.  It’s not a miracle. The recovery depends on the severity and the location of the stroke in the brain  I know that it is very traumatic for a family member to deal with stroke, and I think that it would be unfortunate if anyone would exploit that traumatic situation to sell a product.”

The bottom line is that the way it stands now the Olbermann interview has not helped provide clarity on this complicated issue, so a follow up piece from Olbermann with some depth and varying opinions is much needed for balance.Olbermann Knoepfler Twitter

I engaged Olbermann on Twitter on this. Perhaps he might do a broader, probing look at stem cells in pro sports? Let’s see. I suggested it.

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