Fact-Checking Panama stem cell institute: cost, safety, efficacy, docs

Somehow time has flown by so that I’ve been around for ages in the stem cell universe and some unproven stem cell clinic-type firms, like the well-known Panama stem cell clinic that sells autism “treatments”, are also long-timers.

It’s been an odd parallel existence for more than a decade.

The Stem Cell Institute Panama, Panama stem cells
The Stem Cell Institute in Panama. Google reviews photo.

Today’s post is focused on this Panama stem cell clinic. Think of it as a fact-check or a scientific review of a sort. Overall, I believe there are serious reasons for concern about The Stem Cell Institute.

What’s in this article

Long-time stem cell clinics | The Stem Cell Institute in Panama | What they sell | Who works at The Stem Cell Institute? | Lack of expertise & specialty training? | Lack of data | Cost of stem cell therapy in Panama $16,000-$30,000 and up | Take home messageReferences

Quick Article Summary and Claim Review. Stem cells are a still unproven approach to autism and other conditions. The Stem Cell Institute in Panama claims that umbilical cord stem cells can help autistic children and people with other conditions. In my view, there are no strong data to support this claim, particularly on autism. The most rigorous study to date by Duke suggests no consistent benefit. There are definite risks too and the procedures are expensive. You should consult your child’s pediatrician.

Long-time stem cell clinics

Both the Panama clinic place, run by Neil Riordan and called simply enough The Stem Cell Institute, Texas stem cell clinic Celltex, and the Regenexx clinic brand come to mind in this long-termer category. These three firms are quite different though. I’ve written many times before about Celltex and a bit about Regenexx, but less so about The Stem Cell Institute. My most recent item on this Panama place was related to the puzzling threads between them and the Duke Autism Program.

The Stem Cell Institute aka the Panama Stem Cell Clinic

There are stem cell clinics all over the world, but some draw more attention and customers than others. I also view some as posing potentially higher or lower risks on different levels.

The Stem Cell Institute in Panama strikes me as risky on some specific levels such as having many children getting unproven cellular injections as part of their business model. This place seems particularly successful with its PR too.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the name “institute” implies a non-profit research institution, but to the best of my knowledge The Stem Cell Institute is a for-profit. While it does some research, I don’t see that as its primary mission.

The Stem Cell Institute sells unproven stem cell type offerings for many conditions., Panama Stem Cell
The Stem Cell Institute in Panama sells unproven stem cell type offerings for many conditions. Some are more worrisome than others including the menu items that involve experimental injections into kids.

What they sell

The Stem Cell Institute offers injections for a wide menu of health conditions using umbilical cord and other kinds of cells. You can see a screenshot I took from their website recently to get a sense of their marketing.

It’s strikingly diverse, raising the question for me of how one place can purportedly have the expertise to try to treat so many different conditions.

To cover all of these conditions with care and expertise I’d say that you’d need a neurologist, an immunologist, an orthopedist, a cardiologist, and pediatric physician specialists of several kinds.

Do they have the needed medical staff with board certifications in so many different specialties?

Who works at The Stem Cell Institute?

Regarding the above question, who are the doctors and other staff at the Panama stem cell clinic?

Last I checked their website, they listed 7 physicians in total including a medical director, a clinical trials research physician, and staff physicians.

Only the first 3 doctors listed have bios describing their training. Do they have the needed expertise?

Lack of expertise & specialty training?

Of these 3, the Medical Director, Jorge Paz-Rodriguez, MD, appears to be an internist. Hernan H. Hernandez, MD may be a hematologist.  Dr. Cindy Leu may be a general practitioner. I wasn’t able to clear up if she has a specialty.

The clinical trials doctor listed, Giselle Fernandez, MD, also might be a GP, but I’m not positive. As to the staff physicians, I was not able to determine if they have any specialties or are GPs despite looking around on the web and watching some videos. Leader Neil Riordan is a Ph.D., not an M.D.

Overall, as a result of the lack of information and the nature of what I could find, in my opinion, it does not seem like this clinic clearly has the needed expertise to treat so many medical conditions and patients ranging from pediatric to geriatric. In my view, this increases risks for patients.

If these Stem Cell Institute physicians have more specialty training than I could find, I will update this post.

Lack of rigorous, conclusive data

I also view the offerings of The Stem Cell Institute as lacking in rigorous data to back them up. Neil Riordan has some publications, but the research in these papers relevant to what they are selling is not convincing at all to me. It does not show that the stem cell offerings, such as umbilical cord MSCs, actually work. The papers also do not indicate that they are definitely safe for the conditions being marketed.

The clinical studies generally do not have placebo controls, randomization, or double-blinding.  If you are developing an as yet unproven cellular therapy, it may be fine to have early phase trials without placebos, etc., but if you are already marketing and injecting folks with this unproven stuff and charging for it, it’s an entirely different situation. The Stem Cell Institute seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. Note that while others have done research on cord blood cells for autism including Duke, the data are generally very discouraging.

Cost of stem cell therapy in Panama: $16,000-$30,000 and up

It is expensive to go to the Stem Cell Institute. Their website mentions the cost as follows, “$15,825 USD for children and $23,150 for adults.” An important paper this year in Cytology by Jeremy Snyder and Leigh Turner, focusing in part on reverberations between the Stem Cell Institute and Duke, also discussed cost and fit into this general price range.

Like many stem cell clinics abroad and even in the US, the cost often ends up being a package including a hotel stay and ground transportation.

Many fundraising campaigns on GoFundMe mention Panama stem cells and sometimes include patients mentioning what they paid. All of this is generally consistent with a price range of $16,000-$30,000.

As with other clinics, the cost can go much higher than what is stated. Factors influencing cost include the number of injections and the type of condition. If you get several injections or go on multiple occasions over months or years, the costs can go way up, even into the high tens of thousands.

Also, one should factor in the odds of attaining success in the medical condition that is the problem, and with unproven stem cells, the odds of real documented success in my view are very low. Then there are risks as well.

Take home message

Overall, in my view, there is a low probability of efficacy from what is being sold at this firm in Panama and we can’t be sure about safety. At least some of the cells being sold are amplified in a lab, potentially increasing safety risks. As I said earlier, I also worry about the apparent lack of relevant (and I’d say crucially needed) medical specialty training.

As a Ph.D. I cannot give medical advice, but as a stem cell biologist and long observer of clinical research in this arena as well as of unproven stem cell clinics, I would not go to this clinic or have a friend or loved one go.

If you have complaints about the Stem Cell Institute in Panama I’d like to learn more about what your concerns are.

References

  1. Boosted by celebrity endorsements and a controversial research program, clinics are peddling stem cell autism treatments questioned by experts, Tom Porter, Business Insider, January 2021.
  2. Experts question rationale for stem cell trial for autism, Hannah Furfaro, Spectrum, July 25, 2019.
  3. Should You Bank Your Baby’s Cord Blood?, Dana Najjar, New York Times, December 18, 2020.
  4. Infusion of human umbilical cord tissue mesenchymal stromal cells in children with autism spectrum disorder. Sun JM, Dawson G, Franz L, Howard J, McLaughlin C, Kistler B, Waters-Pick B, Meadows N, Troy J, Kurtzberg J. Stem Cells Transl Med. 2020 Oct;9(10):1137-1146. doi: 10.1002/sctm.19-0434.
  5. Stem cells and autism search, PubMed, February 2021.
  6. Crowdfunding, stem cell interventions and autism spectrum disorder: comparing campaigns related to an international “stem cell clinic” and US academic medical center, Jeremy Snyder and Leigh Turner, Cytology, March 2021.

  7. ISSCR Guidelines on stem cell therapy.

69 thoughts on “Fact-Checking Panama stem cell institute: cost, safety, efficacy, docs”

  1. I’d be interested in what you thought about Razi Berry. She is a Scottsdale Arizona naturopath that has been crowdfunding (over $160K for over three years now) for various terminal diseases she claims to have, most recently “Rare Synucleinopathy” for which she now requires $200,000 for treatment at this Panama Stem Cell Institute.

    https://www.givesendgo.com/GBA5J

          1. I would generally agree, but there needs to be respect for the very vulnerable folks (many seniors on SS and disability) that are being repeatedly pressured to give here.

      1. Hi Paul, do you ever give credit for to these guys for their life saving efforts? You seem to dwell on the negatives with regards to stem cell therapy. Looks like your goal is one – to bring these guys down. Why are you fighting these guys – that are doing a good job? I am not surprised to see this. The last I heard of you was with lifewave. Who is paying your mission? Olive

        1. Jeanne Loring

          Olive, There has been no life-saving effort by these clinics, just a pocket-picking effort. These clinics are a sham. full stop.

  2. Ivermectin, approved for human use since 1987, prohibited in the treatment of Covid-19. No adverse events reported from treatment however FDA banned its use saying, “more research needed” .

  3. They use UC MSCs which they call Golden Cells™ (6 cell lines) but don’t disclose the isolation process and which 6 lines they are. Are the MSCs derived from the Wharton’s jelly? Are they expanded (which increases the risk of mutations with every passage)? Are the MSCs cleaned from their CD surface markers? What about immunogenicity? The website cites the phase II clinical trial done in Miami for frailty which published the Calculated Panel Reactive Antibodies (cPRA) and they found reactive antibodies in 20% of the patients.

    1. Dear Carina, You seems to know all about Stem Cell & what to look out for. What’s your input on GioStar Maxico & R3.
      I’m dire in getting my knee fix so I’ll be able to walk again.
      My last local treatment using belly fat did nothing for me. Was told Placenta Cord blood is what I needed & is illegal here.
      I decide to choose Stem Cell Institution Panama mainly celebrites involvement.

      Any input greatly appreciated.

  4. Do you really think that in the United States, that they want to cure anything, it’s a trillion dollar industry and if they cured anything people would be out of work, just keep giving pills to hide the symptoms. Our people are the sickest people in the world, the chemicals in our food, why don’t the medical community stop that, because it’s the money.

    1. You are absolutely right. Autism is a multi billion dollar business and they will not cure it or even help to improve it at all !

    1. Regenexx Broomfield Colorado, using my own cells from hip, 1st treatment for left knee only lasted 6 months pain returned to regenexx again for 2nd treatment, only worked for 6 months, looking to travel to Mexico, Panama, or Columbia, most Drs are from USA working there, using cells from ambilical cord, at a great success rate
      regenexx with offices scattered in many places in usa. don’t use ambilical cords cells, illegal in usa.

  5. Is the stem cell targeted treatment for one diagnose only or is it a sort of will treat everything? If somone has several autoimmune diseases, along with anaemia for example (not proper functioning of bone marrow), so does the stem cell treat everything? Can anybody explain plaese?

    1. @Azza,
      Good questions. No, stem cells are not able to treat everything. That’s a fake claim by some clinics that just want your money.
      More specifically on autoimmune diseases, even there it seems unlikely based on the data that I’ve seen that one stem cell treatment would help several of those at the same time.

      It’s hypothetically possible it could help more than one. In this case I’m more specifically talking about HSCT which also uses chemo therapy. This is a very risky procedure though and still considered experimental by many. it’s not approved in the US for autoimmune diseases. See more here: https://ipscell.com/2022/09/what-is-hsct-its-possible-roles-in-ms-treatment/

      Regular MSCs are unlikely to help autoimmune diseases in a lasting way.
      Talk to your doctor.

      1. I’m a BIG fan of data, but having a child with PANS we find ourselves in several PANS/PANDAS and Autism support groups and I have to say, the anecdotal evidence from these personal accounts is pretty astounding. And there are a lot of them. I’d say about 90% of these accounts get treatment overseas and a large percentage of those are from the specific institute you are referring to. There are some amazing testimonies. Kids (and adults) no longer having seizures, non-verbal children speaking for the first time post therapy, etc… When did we stop using these personal accounts for context? I can tell you from my personal experience that you reach a point where you realize that western medicine’s treatment options for your child are a dead end. Especially when such a large portion of it isn’t even educated as to the existence of diseases such as PANS and PANDAS. And perhaps it is out of desperation that parents like us consider treatments lacking in data. But shallow data doesn’t necessarily equal low probability of efficacy. And western medicine doesn’t always follow data for efficacy. We’ve certainly learned that over the last few years. I understand your position, but try to understand that of a desperate parent. And seeing these accounts offer hope where there has otherwise been none.

      2. Hi Dr, Is there a Stem cell treatment location you have researched that you do recommend? I am looking to treat Osteoarthritis. Thank you

  6. Just finished my treatment at the Institute. I was treated for arthritis in both of my shoulders. In less than a week have already experienced significant reduction of pain and an increase in mobility.I’m told the full effect should peak in about 8 weeks.

    This “Fact Check” seems to be a advance assertion/conclusion in search of evidence “Are you still beating your wife” as the old example goes. You motive seems very transparent when you final line is “ If you have complaints about the Stem Cell Institute in Panama I’d like to learn more about what your concerns are.”

    Your disinterest in actually hearing about successful treatment and satisfaction with the institue by asking for past patients to reach out with positive news is an obvious omission of a 2-sided “fact check”

    I would offer up the following personal fact check. I was at the Panama City Hilton hotel which is collocated in the same building as the institutes and where the patients typically stay while in treatment. I had the opportunity to personally hear from many returning and first time patients and vignettes about their experience. The information shared with me antidotally was overwhelmingly positive for treatments for both adults and children.

    1. @Mike,
      Thanks for writing about your experience. It’s great that a few people may feel they were helped, but you need strong data on efficacy and safety before you start trying to profit off of an experimental “therapy”. In my view as a stem cell biologist who has read the research papers from this place, it just doesn’t have the needed data. Their studies are preliminary, weak in design or show no clear benefit. I think a lot of what is going on is placebo effect. It’s an awfully expensive placebo effect to buy.

      Where I get even more concerned is about the supposed autism treatments sold there because we don’t know the long-term risks of this kind of cell therapy in kids. Also, the clinical trials on cord cells for autism including by Duke have clearly shown no benefit.

      1. Rachael Miller

        Actor Mel Gibson said that MSC helped his 92 yr. old father recover eyesight, eliminate hip degeneration and heart problems.

      2. Is this you Paul:
        The Knoepfler Lab is interested in epigenetics in stem cells and cancer. We use cutting edge molecular, cellular and developmental biology methods as well as genomic and gene editing technologies to answer key open questions in these areas of research. We are particularly interested now in the roles of three factors normally in stem cells and during tumorigenesis: histone variant H3.3, the MYC family, and DPPA4. How do these factors link the epigenome to cellular behaviors and tissue growth?

        Our big picture goal is to impact human health through novel discoveries that catalyze new treatments for cancer and advances in translational stem cell biology.

      3. I have been looking into the Panama institute and I can find positive testimonials all over the place but I can’t find disappointing or negative testimonials ANYWHERE. Can you tell me where I can get reviews good and bad?

    2. I did my hip there June. It’s almost September 4 and I feel absolutely nothing. I’m 42 and in otherwise perfect health.

    3. I was down there at the stem cell Institute Panama in August 2023. I had approximately 136 million stem cells injected for intra articular and intramuscular in my knees hips and shoulders as well as intravenous injections on three different days. I was absolutely convinced that it would heal my osteoarthritis. All I can say is I’m still waiting for the healing results and it’s January 31st 2024

      1. I am sorry to hear that, but I am also glad to hear the reviews that never seem to be published.

        My cousin and myself both have MS. She is flying there tomorrow. I hope it’s all she is hoping for.

      1. Paul, how would your reply to someone who has tried everything else, drugs, surgery? If your quality of life is poor and only expected to get worse, why not allow real humans to serve as research subjects. I’m not really worried what might happen 20 years from now if I probably won’t live 10. We aren’t talking about children. One cannot practice experimental medicine without a sense of hope and individual experience. You speak like someone who is paid by the western medical/drug/insurance machine who is about making money and creating long term patients. Prove me wrong. I notice you don’t respond to most of the positive posts.

        I came to your site to help my wife, my love and friend. I sincerely hope you root out the shysters who are ripping people off or hurting them if you can find any.

    1. BioXcellerator is suppose to be a good place for stemcell treatment….
      Several high profile athletes have gone there for treatment and swear by them.

  7. I feel hard on both elbows jammed my shoulders. This resulted in arthritis and cartridge dissappearing. I would be an ideal candidate to do a comparison study between getting results from stem cell repair in one shoulder and seeing if there was any change in the shoulder without stem cell injections. I would be happy, more than happy to provide xrays so we could see if the institute is really providing benefits thru stem cell injections. Tom Ford D Green Bay, WI usa

  8. Mel Gibson got a great result for his father, Hutton. 92 and about to dies, he lived to 101. See the YouTube video with Mel, Joe Rogan and Mel’s doctor.

  9. Hi Bradley, will appreciate your comments on your experience in Panama if you have gone through the process already. Thanks
    Pepe Buraschi(Facebook)

  10. Gibson’s father (who was treated) lived about another 10 years and died after age 100. I looked it up on the internet.

      1. The father Hutton was wheel chair bound, and the Mayo Clinic said they couldn’t do anything more, giving only months to live. Then the stem iv, and he got out of his wheel chair.
        So the story goes.

  11. I would be interested in how you are since your treatment, I am considering going here for treatment for my RA. I too am on very expensive biologic therapy and two other meds for this, Medicare does not cover the cost of the biologic. Pls let me know what you think.

      1. Yes. August 2021. I have 5 autoimmune plus 4 viruses, Lyme disease, mold illness, etc. and the stem cells definitely helped me.

  12. I am currently at Dr Riordan’s Clinic in Panama. I agree with your statement. Also, the person that wrote this article (quite obvious to me) demonstrates a strong dislike of the Stem Cell Institute in Panama. I have 6 autoimmunes, 4 viruses along with other health issues. If Professor Paul K. Can do any better then I invite you to do so. Guarantee you can Not!!!!

  13. this is definitely a 2 sided issue. I have suffered from RA for years. I have done some research. stem cells have been around since the 80s. anybody remember Christopher reeves, He was a huge advocate back then for stem cells. he went in front of congress and testified. the answer he received in short was not the potential danger, it was the effect on healthcare in general. healing people with major disabilities would adversely affect the dynamic in health care research drug development physical therapy ect. The panama clinic isn’t the only one doing this. China. Europe, Japan. they have been doing this for years. today you can have deformed genes removed from an unborn baby, specify the sex, but yet believe that isolating a MSC and replicating it wouldn’t work. i am treated with a biologic med. its just under 100k per infusion, it was approved on 1997 along with 17 others. 25 years later the cost is even higher. the US doesn’t have the best healthcare in the world, they have the most regulated. its all about money. the panama clinic has been doing this for 15 years i believe. the first kid they treated for autism graduated from high school this year. if you doubt the efface of this product, ask yourself why is mayo clinic now treating people with MSC. I have applied to the panama clinic. i will gladly update you on the treatment and results.

  14. Alexander Brown

    Missing: An elephant in the room. Restrictions on Stem Cell Research and Practices in the USA. For Political/Religious interference not scientific reasons. The best science includes freedom of research. This also creates a Bias incentive for the American Clinics who are limited in their offerings. it creates a nationalistic Bias incentive in research reported.as valid A major problem in American HealthCare. We see Paul K. is also not an MD but a PHD. Is the criticism valid for Riordan but not Knoepfler ?

    I suggest an article like this should also contact it’s subject to allow their response.

  15. Mel Gibson goes here. He has all the money in the world, he has a research team that looks into these things I am sure. He chose this place over Cedars for a reason.

    1. Yes, applying for IND clearance is the right way to go for this kind of product. It’d be interesting to see that data and how strong it was. Some other recent FDA IND clearances for COVID-19 have real raised concerns, but this shouldn’t be under the influence of pandemic urgency. Thanks for the heads up. I’m going to keep following this one.

  16. The marketing around these ‘treatments’ is slick too. Lots of testimonials, claims of clinical trials, but no real competent authority oversight and no peer review of raw data. They tout when they think something works, downplay or don’t talk about when the ‘treatments fail to yield any effect (common apparently), and squelch any talk about problems or adverse reactions that may be associated with the care. All in all it seems pretty sketchy to anyone with science or medical background.

    1. Matt, I keep searching to hear from people who spent tens of thousands of dollars on this therapy and got ripped off. Usually, those who are happy go off and live their lives, and the victims sit home in pain and blog about the negatives. I’m honestly trying to sort out fact from fiction here. I can’t find any significantly credible negatives coming from any patients, but plenty coming from the US medical/pharma/insurance money sucking machine. Please find me someone who is not currently paid by that machine who can tell me that the risks do not significantly outweigh the benefits. Please.

      1. I completely agree! Took my autistic son to Panama stem cell institute 3 times and have had amazing success each time. Everyone I have meet there had similar stories with their children as well. Not one had anything negative to say. One family I met had done 12 treatments for their son over the course of 10 years. I highly support this treatment and facility.

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