A new article by Honor Whiteman in Medical News Today (MNT) on a Mexico stem cell clinic really takes the prize so far in 2016 amongst media pieces that engage in stem cell hype. Update; Many on Twitter are calling for retraction of this MNT article.
The MNT article entitled “Stem cell therapy: is the US missing a trick?” ends up overall being promotional for a Cancun stem cell clinic that is selling unproven stem cell “treatments” for a host of conditions including for kids suffering from autism and cerebral palsy. As a result MNT is in effect giving free advertising to the World Stem Cells Clinic without needed balance and context. You can see the nifty image above from the clinic website.
Among the seemingly over-the-top claims that the article repeats are that 100% of autism patients have improved after “treatment” at this clinic. Really? Most of us don’t even have a 100% success rate drinking a glass of lemonade as about 1% of the time we spill it.
The price tag for this miracle treatment is just $17,000.
The clinic, as I would assume unintentionally promoted by MNT, also claims a 90-95% success rate for treating COPD with stem cells. To my knowledge, there is no convincing evidence in the published literature that stem cells are safe and effective to treat autism, cerebral palsy, or COPD. As a reminder even the most rigorously scientifically proven therapies that are based upon rock solid data-based rationales do not have 90-100% rates of success. And then there’s the reality that most clinical trials of experimental drugs including biologics such as stem cells fail. The vast majority crash in fact. In this context, these kinds of claims as passed along by MNT are hard for me to believe and I worry that they could put patients including kids at risk.
Oddly, this particular clinic apparently will not treat ALS with stem cells because they say, as quoted in the MNT piece, that it doesn’t make sense. But treating autism and COPD with an unproven stem cell intervention does make sense? I don’t get it. I’ve only been studying stem cells for more than a third of my life so maybe these folks can explain it to me.
On page two, the MNT article presents a very one-sided discussion of the FDA as obstructing the availability of these wonderful stem cell therapies in the US. There’s no balance here as only the stem cell clinic doc, Dr. Ernesto Gutiérrez, and some other person who is not a fan of the FDA are quoted.
Yet supposedly the clinic is reportedly working with the FDA:
“Still, Dr. Gutiérrez told us that the World Stem Cells Clinic and other organizations across the globe are working with the FDA in order to push forward stem cell therapy approval in the US, but he pointed out that it is likely to be another 5-10 years before Americans can access the treatment on home turf.”
I wonder what “working with” means in this context. If World Stem Cells Clinic is, for example, discussing a pre-IND or BLA with the FDA, I’d love to hear about it and would do a blog post on it. That kind of interface with the FDA by a stem cell clinic abroad would be highly unusual and warrant positive attention.
What follows in the MNT piece is a discussion of what to look out for in the stem cell arena in the way of questionable clinics and the article ends with this quote that seems ironic to me, particularly since the clinic’s own website in the bottom right corner seems to have testimonial videos (see screenshot above)::
“Dr. Gutiérrez said that any stem cell clinic that boasts claims based on patient testimonials rather than scientific literature should also be avoided, as should clinics that do not have a physician or a team of doctors willing to talk to patients about their treatment; patient-doctor communication is of key importance.”
I would ask, respectfully, where are the data and scientific literature supporting this clinic’s claims as passed along without context by MNT? If the clinic has published it, I hope they let me know. Again, this might be something worth blogging about.
The other striking thing is if I heard the video correctly, the mom attributes her son’s autism to a vaccine. Did others hear it that way?
I also would hope that MNT does a better job of balance in the future if it dives into the wild and woolly world of stem cell clinics.