Review of clinic exposé film From Jail Cell to Stem Cell

Stem cell clinics and suppliers have been getting into the business of making promotional films to generate more revenue, but now there’s something very different in the cinematic stem cell arena called From Jail Cell to Stem Cell by filmmaker Doug Orchard. It is at its heart an exposé film about some in my view particularly concerning stem cell and exosome clinics and suppliers. The only other thing similar to this was 2019’s great podcast Bad Batch.

Reviewing the movie From Jail Cell to Stem Cell

Today’s post is my review of From Jail Cell to Stem Cell.

Overall, my feeling is that the film will be a moderate net positive for the field, but it has some big weaknesses too that take away from that. It landed for me at  2 and a half stars out of 5.Two and a half Stars, Review From Jail Cell to Stem Cell

In its nearly 2 hours, the film digs deep into the underbelly of the non-FDA compliant, for-profit stem cell clinic and exosome world. It uncovers some frankly awful things. Only a bit of this was surprising to me as someone who has been covering this stuff and battling it for a decade, but I hope the public gets a reality check from the film.

It’s also possible that the film could spark some new investigations by regulators and provide useful new info for ongoing efforts. I’d imagine, for instance, that the FDA and FTC are going to find it helpful. So that’s all good, but there are as I said some serious faults to the film too.

Let’s start with the other good stuff.

Bluntness about clinics, inclusion of patient voices

Alternative health blogger Erin Elizabeth, partner of Joseph Mercola who has had serious issues with regulators, was a major presence in the film  From Jail Cell to Stem Cell. Screenshot from the film.

One of the most striking things about the movie is how blunt it is about the complicated and sometimes even criminal backgrounds of some in the stem cell clinic and biologics arena. The film relentlessly digs into that. It made me wonder whether the movie got the needed lengthy legal review it probably needed given how much shade it throws on certain subjects. The film opens with a laser focus on Brent Detelich and Stem Cell Institute of America along with Jeff Hayes, who made The Healing Miracle promotional film. It hammers away at them in a devastating way and doesn’t pull any punches.

I also appreciated how the film was outright snarky at times. For example, they flew all the way to Panama to check on a “university” that purportedly awarded a Ph.D. to the now past U.S. Stem Cell clinic firm leader Kristin Comella. The results were a stinging shot that almost felt comedic.

Others that get attention in the film include fat stem cell clinic chain Cell Surgical Network, which is still in an ongoing court case with the FDA/DOJ that likely won’t be resolved until 2021, and troubled birth-related materials supplier Liveyon.

I also like how the film gave so much screen time to patients. You get a strong sense of where many patients are coming from as they think about getting stem cells and what happens afterwards. They are looking for hope and help with serious health issues.

The film makes the case that patients need to do more homework before they get stem cell injections too, an important message.

Three main weaknesses to the movie

Unfortunately, the film has some major problems too. Three main issues stood out to me that made the film much weaker.

Mercola & Elizabeth

First, it is hard for me to understand why the film gives screen time to Joseph Mercola and an especially large amount of screen time to his partner and alternative health blogger Erin Elizabeth (pictured above in screenshot from the film). Just recently the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA and FTC to take action about alleged claims by Mercola regarding COVID-19.

Mercola has also had many past serious issues with regulators over the years and it wasn’t so long ago that he interviewed (and I’d say heavily promoted) Kristin Comella. In the film it seems to me he’s now trying to distance himself from Comella and the worst of the clinic sphere folks. However, it doesn’t work for me at least.

Also, check out this piece in the LA Times by Michael Hiltzik and this particular quote:

“Among the featured speakers at the Academy of Regenerative Practices’ 2018 conference, for example, was Joseph Mercola, an antivaccine propagandist and purveyor of alternative nostrums who has received at least three warning letters from the FDA.

In 2016, Mercola settled a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission over his claim that the tanning beds he marketed could reduce cancer risk. He agreed to stop selling the devices permanently and to refund up to $5.3 million to customers who bought them. Comella appeared in a joint video with Mercola last year talking up the supposed benefits of stem cell treatments.”

Tanning beds reduce cancer risk?

From Jail Cell to Stem Cell
From Jail Cell to Stem Cell, Screenshot from video.

If you Google him you can find more reasons for concern. Science Based Medicine has what amounts to a whole library of posts about Mercola and it’s all deeply troubling in my view.

Yet in the new film, somehow Mercola seems portrayed as one of the good citizens of the health arena who just made a mistake with Comella.

Why is he given this role in the film?

Erin Elizabeth has also not exactly been a consistent paragon of rigorous, data-based approaches to health either in my view. Did they help finance the film? Provide key information about clinics like their social media strategies?

Admittedly, on my first viewing what Elizabeth says in the movie seems generally accurate and sends the right message, so that’s something positive at least.

Regenexx & Centeno promotion

A second problem is that the film at times feels like it’s promoting Centeno and his brand Regenexx. It’s like there’s stem cell commercial material mixed in there this way. For example, there’s a segment on how Regenexx supposedly saved some company tons of money on health coverage for employees. This doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the film at all.

It got me wondering again how the film, including that funny jaunt to Panama, was financed?

A quick search of Centeno’s Regenexx blog found many past mentions of the From Jail Cell to Stem Cell filmmaker Doug Orchard. For years Orchard made promotional videos for Regenexx so that says something about the new film I think.

Centeno in addition has had a financial reason to go after fat stem cell and exosome firms, chiropractors selling stem cells, etc. because they are his business competitors. I do believe he truly feels these firms do harm to patients and that is part of his motivation here too and if I recall in the film there is a brief disclosure that he is critical of some competitors at times so that’s good.

Notably, the Regenexx approaches as used in the U.S. are FDA-compliant so that’s a very different situation than the clinics and suppliers featured in the film, but keep in mind that Regenexx has not really been proven to be effective consistently in rigorous studies. Regenexx is also sold at stem cell clinics too, just a different kind.

Omitting the history of academic good citizens tackling the clinic problem

Finally, the film has a big gap. Academics like me, Leigh Turner and others who have been doing educational outreach and frankly going at it with the stem cell clinics for years just don’t exist within the universe of the film and that’s a problem.

Some of us have put a lot on the line to lead the push against non-compliant stem cell clinics and at times it has gotten pretty dark. There have been threats of lawsuits, other retaliation, or even physical harm. Maybe Centeno has gotten some of that too in the last few years. I don’t know.

We’ve been doing this work on the stem cell clinic problem for a decade or more including efforts related to some of the main clinic players that are the focus of the film. Centeno is in my view by comparison a relative newcomer to being a public critic of certain clinics.

The film does have a number of academics in it who work with stem cells and other biologics so that’s something balance-wise, but to my knowledge these particular folks just have not been out there doing the marathon work to educate people about the clinic problem and confronting it long term.

Overall review: 2 and 1/2 stars out of 5

Despite the major problems with the film mentioned just above, on the whole it’s fairly useful and informative so it lands for me at 2 1/2 stars out of five. It was a missed opportunity as I think it had the potential to get into the 4-5-star range.

For comparison, I give the podcast Bad Batch on amniotic stem cell clinic supplier Liveyon five stars out of five. You can see my review of it here. The podcast was put together by a professional healthcare journalist Laura Beil, was thorough, and was not biased.

Somehow I don’t think this is the last stem cell film we are going to see.

24 thoughts on “Review of clinic exposé film From Jail Cell to Stem Cell”

  1. Please note that Dr Mercola’s “tanning bed” was actually something closer to red light (infared) therapy, NOT a tanning bed. That lawsuit is an example of FDA NOT having a good grasp on health and Dr Mercola being ahead of his times…you can see similar technology a decade later being sold everywhere. He also might have made claims that likely got him into trouble

  2. Paul,
    Please don’t give up exposing the “snake oil” sellers. People like to believe lies an BS and not the truth.
    Roger White

  3. Paul. If you’d spend more time researching what stem cell treatments are showing efficacy, and understanding which have been used 10s of 1,000s of times with no SAEs to show both sides of the debate, YOU’D have a LOT more credibility. You have the same problem you’ve had for over a decade and that is you’ve appointed yourself as the cop of the stem cell world, and you seem to believe the only credible work that is being done is by your friends at CIRM–you know, the ones getting rich on those billions of dollars while working at public institutions and patenting advances in their own name for their own enrichment.

    For most of that time, you fully ignored the advancements and great science being done with non-embryonic or fetal cells until you pivoted towards iPS. However, your focus on who’s doing what “wrong” or “illegally” in your view and disregarding the results that have been shown by so many people demonstrates once again that you’re wearing blinders and only see what you want to see.

    One example: Chris Centano has so many people who have clearly and demonstrably benefitted from his work with soft tissue. Have you ever looked at any of that with an open mind? Because it is compelling.

    Anyway Paul, I hope for your sake one day you get out of your Chicken Little mentality and see the good work that’s being done in addition to what all of us also see–yes there are some scammers. But the truth is they pale in comparison to the good work being done. It’s all a matter of where you put your attention.

    1. @Steven,
      How do you know what’s “showing efficacy”? What are your criteria?
      How do you know the “advancements” and “great science” when you see them?

      As to IPS cells, if you had been reading this blog the last few years you’d see it talks about all kinds of stem cells. There are many cool things going on with adult stem cells, but just like anything else, one needs really good, unbiased data for efficacy and safety. That’s especially tough to get from a for-profit operation that charges patients to get the experimental therapies. It’s also tough for those working in trials with a foundation of pluripotent stem cells and often times they don’t succeed, but to my knowledge they don’t charge patients which is a huge difference.

      How do you know that “Centano” has many people who have “clearly and demonstrably” had benefits? Why do you believe it’s compelling? Direct me to the good data please and help me “put my attention” on what you think is the good stuff, not with generalizations but with concrete proof.

      1. We are collecting real world data on our registry database: DataBiologics. We now have over 59 physicians and over 2,500 patients and counting in this database which began just over a year ago. The data we are are collecting is NOT focused on a SINGLE method or network but from average/thoughtful clinicians across the US using a variety of devices and methods. Over time, with enough data (hopefully 10s of thousands) we will have RWE to hopefully answer some of the ongoing questions including safety and efficacy !!!!!

          1. Those are great questions, Paul. It is a “private” database but we hope to share the information with clinicians, patients and manufacturers as well as payors in the future. For now, we will collect data from various clinicians and THEY will have access to THEIR data and in the future comparative data to the entire database on specific procedures for specific conditions i.e PRP for knee OA. We will also be able to determine which systems are performing best and which techniques used by the various clinicians are producing the BEST outcomes. We are collecting adverse responses as well pain and functional scores that are commonly used in the Orthopedic community. IT is our hope that this will provide clarity in what device companies, networks and individuals are claiming for the various procedures that are performed. While we hope to add features that would make it valid for controlled studies, we are not at that point yet and that may be best as RWE is very different from “controlled studies”. Each have their merits and their downsides.

  4. Just to clarify.. Mercola and Erin have millions of followers. You and Leigh have?.. 100? Thats how it goes these days, whether right or wrong.

      1. With everyone that matters, meaning patients/prospective patients. Im not trying to be rude here but your blog has to be the most biased one sided writing out there. When “reporters” come to you they already know the exact answer they are going to get. You don’t even bother to look at it from anyones point of view but your own. And that is totally fine. But when someone reads your blog, it only takes them 2 posts to see your agenda. You automatically chalk up anyones positive experience in a “dubious” office as placebo. Frankly patients want to hear from patients and actual doctors, you fit neither. You come across as a scientist who knows his meal ticket is going to go away. Not trying to be harsh but I’ve read you blog for years. Just like I watch all the different news. Last thing.. again not to be harsh. From a patients perspective (the ones who follow Mercola and Erin) they think both have more CREDIBILITY than you and Leigh.

    1. Having millions of followers or sheep doesn’t make them right. As my momma said, a dumb idea is still dumb idea even if millions believe it and truth is not the same as majority decision.

  5. Maybe if this movie wasn’t bought and paid for by Chris Centeno it would be a decent movie. It’s a visual representation of his blog pure and simple. He can swear up and down that he didn’t pay for it but no one believes him. As far as Mercola and Erin, don’t take this personal but both them have substantially more credibility than you and Leigh Turner. Im not sure why you think people would even care what you have to say? That may come off as harsh but honestly, its true.

    1. While I agree that there is a bit too much on Chris Centeno and Regenexx, you should be careful before you make accusations of who funded this video. Perhaps ask Doug Orchard directly ?

  6. Paul:

    You seem pretty disappointed in this because YOU are not in it. Sounds a bit petty and small. There are PLENTY of physicians who actually deliver medical care to patients who have been very active to raise the bar and weed out the “bad actors” in this area. But you want to point out “but to my knowledge these particular folks just have not been out there doing the marathon work to educate people about the clinic problem and confronting it long term.” You and Leigh Turner do not actually treat patients on daily basis to understand the deficiencies (and lack of science) in current standard of care and the efforts THOUGHTFUL clinicians have made to provide optimal treatments using the best techniques and best available science along with data collection !

  7. What???? A doctor talking Ill of another doctor with a competing business??? (Centeno who makes doctors buy a million dollar MRI machine to join his network) Again you lump in CSN with con arrest without stating what Cell Surgical Network has done Illegally. Paul is allowed to use taxpayer funds to do research on mice but if a private citizen wants to use their own cash for another option, it’s not allowed. So totalitarian of you Paul. Thanks for the free advertising so patients can make educated decisions with their doctors as the process should be, not some researcher in the UC system who sees his funding drying up due to the poor economic situations in California. Big Pharma writes big checks don’t they Paul????

    1. CSN does legally? A quick read through their webpages and you find claims of unproven and untested cell ‘treatments’ for things still in research and clinical trials… at best. Just because they themselves don’t directly offer ‘treatments’ but only to put you in contact with someone/company who does make offerings isn’t the best endorsement.

Leave a Reply