Stem cell clinic firm US Stem Cell has just had a major paper retracted. Two of the notable authors on that paper are US Stem Cell leader Kristin Comella and stem cell researcher Thomas Ichim, who was senior author. It’s not clear to me if Comella currently has a role in the firm or not.
The retracted paper’s title was, “Intra-articular injection in the knee of adipose derived stromal cells (stromal vascular fraction) and platelet rich plasma for osteoarthritis.”
A reader on Retraction Watch pointed out that Ichim has had another retraction of a stem cell paper from the same journal.
Stem cell clinics & their data
Over the 11+ years I’ve been writing here on The Niche there have been times when I challenged unproven stem cell clinics to show their data if they had any. Sometimes they would present data that seemed pretty iffy. I even saw in some cases their best ‘data’ seemed to be hand scrawled on scratch paper.
In rare cases they could point to published papers, which should in theory be a lot better. But I’d never heard of some of the journals publishing results from stem cell clinics. I also couldn’t tell if they did a normal peer review. What would keep the quality of papers high at such journals?
US Stem Cell was one of the few clinics that published data.
US Stem Cell Retraction
In this new retraction, the issue at hand seemed to be related to the research and ethics approval timing.
From the Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Translation Medicine in the retraction notice:
“The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article  due to a number of concerns that have come to light after publication. The clinical trial registry  for this study states that the study start date is 12 February 2012. However, documentation regarding the ethical approval provided by the corresponding author shows that the authors applied for ethics approval on 18 February 2012, and that the ethics committee approved the study on 17 September 2012. Additionally, the time stamp on Fig. 4a is 11 September 2012 and on Fig. 4b it’s 27 February 2010, which suggests the research was conducted before ethics approval was obtained. The Editor-in-Chief therefore no longer has confidence in the reliability of the data reported in the article.”
This particular paper was important for stem cell clinics. It argued that the use of fat stem cells (aka adipose stem cells or stromal vascular fraction (SVF)) in this kind of situation was safe and probably helpful for arthritis. Most other clinics selling similar offerings never published data.
This retraction just adds further doubt for many of us about the use of SVF for arthritis.
In terms of the future for US Stem Cell as a business, we are awaiting the outcome of their appeal of their loss in federal district court.
To the best of my knowledge this clinic firm still has an injunction against it, which prevents it from injecting SVF into patients. I’m very curious to see how the appeal goes.