July 7, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Predatory clinics push stem cell secret society, deep state conspiracy theory

Did you hear the one about the deep state FDA, big pharma stem cell conspiracy theory?

This is the phony idea that the FDA, big pharma, and, heck, sometimes even certain academics (who could that be?) are plotting together as some kind of biomedical secret society or “deep state” to block promising stem cell therapies from reaching patients. It is one of the more persistent stem cell myths out there. Unfortunately, the stem cell arena is more prone these days to this kind of fake news.

Why is this particular stem cell conspiracy myth still out there?

Some for-profit stem cell clinics are feeling the heat from the FDA and the media. If you are someone trying to sell a sketchy “stem cell” offering that (A) isn’t backed up by science, (B) isn’t government approved or really exempt from pre-market approval, and (C) poses real risks to patients, how do you continue to get new patients/customers in the door to take their money? How do avoid getting shut down or worse? What do you do to deal with potentially increasing regulatory and other pressure on your questionable stem cell biz? Well, one thing you can do is push this fake stem cell conspiracy.

In terms of the stem cell deep state conspiracy theory, could there be such a stem cell conspiracy for real? As far as I know, no. Plus, even if there was and I just didn’t know about it, how could it have stayed a stem cell secret so long? In my view, the conspiracy theory is just a cynical tool of certain for-profit clinics and/or those who ideologically favor less regulatory oversight of stem cells (also, see the Top 10 secrets of for-profit stem cell clinics in terms of how they try to keep customers coming in the door).

I’ve been blogging about stem cells for about 8 years so I’ve seen this fake stem cell conspiracy theory keep popping up, but today the stakes are higher with so many hundreds of clinics out there. So what should we do those of us advocating for rigorous, evidence-based stem cell medicine do?

The best way to deal productively with this situation and to battle this bogus stem cell conspiracy theory is for us to collectively continue educational outreach (including responding to patients who reach out as much as we can) and promote accountability and transparency. For instance, let’s keep challenging the clinics for properly controlled data that they submit to real peer review in a solid journal, not in some for-hire journal.

We also need to give strong feedback (both positive and negative, where appropriate) to the FDA and other regulatory bodies. We need to energetically advocate for these agencies to do more. Again, I like what I see from Gottlieb’s FDA so far, but it’s still early days on that front. Let’s try to get potentially helpful laws passed such as the one here in California and the one proposed in Florida.

Sometimes I’ve heard stem cell researchers say in a discouraging voice, “the war is over and the clinics have won” and I understand their feelings, but I’m not convinced it’s over. 2018-2019 could be a turning point for the better.

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