For me it’s been a wild week of grant and paper writing, grant review, going over data, and more, but finally I had a chance to watch this week’s Dr. Oz show on stem cell clinics in full last night and I give it an A+ grade.
A show producer went undercover with an MS patient to a number of stem cell clinics and let the clinic people’s words do the talking about what’s most important to the clinics: money and not patients’ well-being.
The guests on the show included actor and MS patient Montel Williams and stem cell scientist Dr. Sally Temple, the President of ISSCR. They and Dr. Oz all did great on covering this issue. A special shout-out to Sally Temple for doing the show. Not many leading scientists are willing to put themselves out there to make a difference like that.
The show combined science, medicine, and compelling personal stories together with the undercover videos to expose the stem cell clinic industry for what it actually is: an endeavor almost solely focused on making money taken from vulnerable patients. It’s an industry that collects tens of millions of dollars from patients for experimental offerings that have little-to-no data behind them. No FDA approval.
And there have been bad outcomes ranging from deaths to blindness. Tumors.
If certain stem cells work and are safe for specific medical conditions, you must prove it scientifically and medically, and you have to do that first before you start marketing it. This means putting patients before profits.
Many biotech companies are doing exactly that and there are a host of promising investigational stem cell therapies in various clinical trials. Some will be proven safe and effective, which is so exciting! Others won’t work out. We can’t know the difference in advance of getting the data, but stem cell clinics are pretending they know their stuff works and is safe.
What do I say to patients who believe that the offerings of stem cell clinics do work?
Each of us understandably place great weight on our own individual patient experiences, but the experiences of one, ten, or even many more patients don’t prove things if they aren’t studied carefully with controls and in an unbiased manner. In biomedical science we learn that often, even if we are excited about an idea/hypothesis, once we carefully study our data collected from enough properly controlled experiments and it all gets examined critically by qualified colleagues, we end up being proven wrong. Sometimes we are right. The key thing is you have to let data tell the difference rather than hope or belief.
I appreciated how Dr. Oz issued a call to action at the end for his wide audience to tackle the major problem of stem cell clinics. We all need to work together on this. There’s going to be major positive impact from the show as a starting point to more action that involves the FDA, the FTC, and other governmental agencies such as state attorney generals and medical boards.