Several new investigations expose ‘snake oil’ stem cell clinics

snake oil stem cell clinicsWe need more investigations of for-profit stem cell clinics selling what some view as ‘snake oil.’ Over the years I’ve mainly resisted using terms like “snake oil,” but that phrase is being used more often and more recently I think we need to be blunt about what is being sold.

Part of effectively countering the worst of the clinics is for the media and others to do probing investigations. We need to shine some major sunlight on their practices, which then helps inform both patients and decisions by regulatory bodies like the FDA, FTC, state boards, and potentially even law enforcement.

It is hopeful to see several recent media pieces taking a healthy, critical look in this area.

Update: Here’s yet another investigative report, this one from CBS in Los Angeles, that just came out today on chiropractors (atTwins Chiropractic and Physical Medicine) selling unproven stem cells and also includes hidden video footage. Get this, reportedly the clinic pitch man Israel Matos who does the informercials is an actor who made obviously false statements during the seminar. What’s refreshing about this report though is that a 90-year old attendee of the seminar did her own research and exposed what was going on there. Check it out.

Over at Medium, science writer Karen Weintraub has a new piece rather bluntly titled, “‘Snake Oil’ Stem Cell Clinics Peddle False Hope for High Prices.” She in part focuses on patient Doris Tyler who lost her vision after going to a stem cell clinic in the US. Weintraub’s piece quotes stem cell scientist Sean Morrison, past President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR):

“Snake oil salesmen capitalize on the fact that people see reports on stem cells,” says Sean Morrison, a former president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, adding that many clinics offer therapies that haven’t been proven to work and, biologically speaking, don’t even make sense. “Even many physicians are not sophisticated enough to understand that there are many kinds of stem cells.”

This other recent news story from News 5 in Cleveland, OH includes hidden camera video clips of over-the-top clinic claims at infomercial seminars. The investigation focused on chiropractors involved in clinics selling unproven “stem cell” offerings to vulnerable patients. These may not even really be stem cells at all, but it’s hard to say. You can see my recent piece here calling on chiropractors and their state oversight boards to stop the exploding area of chiropractic office stem cell injections.

Most often the patients these days targeted by clinics are senior citizens. Remarkably, News 5 reported that the head of the Ohio chiropractic board, Greg Palkowski, himself appears to run or be involved a stem cell clinic. That clinic’s regenerative medicine page even quotes FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, which seems to me to be an unwise move, but one we’ve seen in the past from other clinics including in one case in a big newspaper ad.

A Chicago news team also did an investigation that they recently reported. There are some common themes in these investigations. The Chicago one also includes a chiropractor angle discussing statements a reported clinic owner and chiropractor, Dr. Jill Howe. They quote Howe from a promotional video:

“It’s injected into the area that’s injured,” she said, and then will go in and “regenerate tissue that you’re missing so you can get new cartilage, you can get new knees, you can get new shoulders, new nerves.”

That sounds like hype in my opinion and I don’t believe there is good science to back up those claims. This kind of skepticism is the consensus in the stem cell research field. The Chicago news piece also quotes Sean Morrison:

“One of the things that we see among people selling fake stem cell therapies is they jump in early without testing whether something is safe and effective and start selling it to desperate patients,” Morrison said. “Our belief at the International Society for Stem Cell Research is that there are many companies operating in the United States that are selling fake stem cell therapies that are not legal under FDA regulations.”

More investigations by news teams are ongoing and will shed additional light on the worst clinics, which again I think can rightly be called snake oil clinics. Along with the bad press as lawsuits and documented patient harms accumulate, you’d think at some point a potential Achilles heel for the worst clinics and their providers would be inability to get malpractice insurance.

9 thoughts on “Several new investigations expose ‘snake oil’ stem cell clinics”

  1. my wife and i went to a free consultation near Plano Texas. I have several back fusions a current broken back auto accident,parkinson’s and C.O.P.D. I was told that i should have and IV this way i could have possible relief with all my diagnosis this would cost $6,500 checking I did not have it done but my wife of 40 years wanted me to have it done just because she sees what i go through each day. I work and try to live as much as a normal life as i can but for someone to tell you that for an amount of money you possible wont hurt any more it’s tempting. They come across as Florence Nightingale type.

    1. Sorry to hear of your pain Andrew and I hope for the best for you. However, these charlatans will take your money and say – hey, we only said it was “possible” but shucks, it didn´t work.”

      A single therapy for a severe physical ailment, a neurodegenerative disorder and a chronic lung disease – oh please, that´s a snake oil of the highest order! Tell you what – if you go for it and you can prove at least a 50% improvement by any physical test normally used in clinically practice and performed by an independent physician (i.e. not a quality of life statement given by you – because patients are notoriously unreliable as readouts), then I will pay for your treatment. But I think my money is safe.

      Just ask them to provide independent proof of physical improvement in patients they have treated and watch them run. They are cashing in on the desperation of patients and the exchange rate is cash for fictional hope.

  2. I feel very bad for Joanna and I’m sorry she was exposed to this nonsense. I’m sure Paul can assist in getting you on the proper track. I too am more than happy to assist and provide insight.

    There are so many issues at play here it’s hard to know where to begin. Since ithere is little help from big brother in governing the onslaught of miscreants, it’s crucial for patients to be properly armed. Most important – EDUCATION. With all the resources available an individual can get a pretty basic understanding behind the science of stem cell therapy, or at least an understanding of what makes sense. If this first step is properly achieved, going to a Chiropractor for stem cell therapy would never be up for consideration. In fact, it would scream DANGER! Would you go to a podiatrist for a hip replacement or consult with your CVS pharmacist about a hernia repair technique?

    There is a reason why the individuals doing these alleged stem cell seminars are not accomplished in the science or from major institutions or notable practices. We can get into that at a later time, but in short, there are 3 absolutes:

    The only way to obtain stem cell therapy legally in the US is autologously
    There are ZERO live stem cells in pre-packaged vials (amniotic, umbilical cord, etc..)
    Stem Cell Therapy and Amniotic/Umbilical/Wharton’s Jelly …. Therapy are NOT synonymous

    If you see an advertisement or an invite to attend a free seminar on New Breakthrough Non Surgical Treatment for Knee Pain and the presenter is a D.C., you can be certain it’s a gimmick.

  3. I am feeling and thinking that the clinic I went to in Pearland, Texas a month ago is fake and a
    “rip off” since I have gotten much worse since. I received 10 injections and an IV. I am out a ton of money and am suffering with much more pain. The mental anguish from all of this and losing thousands of dollars is unbearable! I need to hire a lawyer and a lawsuit filed. They are claiming it takes eight weeks to feel the results. I do not believe it now! I was and am desperate and very vulnerable and suffering.

    I called them twice and was told it must be systemic now and they will perform blood work.

    The joints that I had minimal issues, and in some, no pain, are now at the “severe” level. The burning in the bottom of my feet started three days after I received the injections and it all took one week and they are burning in pain everyday. now. My knees, ankles, right hand, wrist, both elbows, back, neck, hips and shoulders are much worse. Could this be from dead stem cells?

    How can you find out if a chiropractic clinic (I know) is legitimate or not? How do you know who is? I now think that these stem cells are unproven, false lies!! At their seminar, a day before, the woman who conducted it told me after I asked what the success rate is, said “they have all been successful”.

    I watched a webinar called “The Healing Miracle” which was approximately 18 hours long a couple months or so before getting the injections. They were obviously “paid off” by many stem cell clinics. The people in the webinar were probably actors.

    I wish I knew about The Niche before this was done. How do I get in touch with you Paul? I need some advice and answers. Thank you.

    1. Sorry to hear about your experience. Did you ever consider asking a general practitioner or other accredited physician for help? They may not have any miracle cures but they usually tell you the truth.

  4. Paul, Snake Oil Salesman is a rather polite term, I could think of many others that are significantly more harsh and less polite that would truly reflect their predatory behavior!

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