September 24, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

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

ERIN ELIZABETH
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.

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