Review of DVC Stem & marketing of unproven therapies

A clinic called DVC Stem selling unproven stem cells has popped up prominently on the web recently. It’s a relatively new and in some ways puzzlingly dominant presence on the stem cell section of the Internet.

We should pay attention to these kinds of changes on the web. They can impact many people’s healthcare choices, sometimes in a negative way.

What’s in this article?

What is DVC Stem? | Why does DVC Stem cost $25,000? | Claims review of many conditions treated | Supplier Vitro BiopharmaWhere Google comes into play | Better Google ranking than NIH | Looking ahead

What changed over the last couple of years so that DVC Stem is so prominent on the web? Much of it seems to be related to Google. Update: I have a new piece out on STAT News on the broader issue with unproven therapies and Google Search so also check that out.

DVC Stem video featuring Lou Ferrigno
DVC Stem video featuring Lou Ferrigno promoting unproven stem cells. Screenshot from YouTube. This is part of a larger pattern of celebrities promoting stem cell clinics.

The rise of DVC Stem on the web raises serious broader issues with Google search in the unproven biomedical sphere.

What is DVC Stem?

DVC is a Cayman Islands stem cell clinic. It sells expensive, unproven stem cell interventions for many conditions.

In my opinion, the offerings do not have a strong biomedical science foundation, which is why I call them “unproven”.

This clinic fits in with many of the unproven stem cell clinics we often see here in the U.S., especially those selling birth-related and fat cell injections.

However, being in the Caribbean DVC doesn’t have to worry about the FDA in the same way.

DVC video clamiing ALS treatment
DVC video claiming a supposed ALS treatment. Screenshot from YouTube. In my view there is no safe and effective cell therapy for ALS at this time.

Why does DVC Stem cost $25,000?

Based on their website, it seems the main general kind of offering at the clinic costs $25,000.

That’s a very high price tag for stem cell injections that aren’t scientifically proven to work or be definitely safe.

Similar offerings here in the U.S. often go for around $5,000 to $8,000. See my post on stem cell therapy cost.

Of course, some of the more unusual things offered by DVC aren’t generally for sale here or only rarely at American unproven clinics. See a screenshot below of just a few of the long list of many conditions DVC claims to treat.

DVC stem, Google
The DVC Stem clinic markets unproven “treatments” for many serious conditions including ALS, claims for which there are no generally conclusive and positive clinical trial data. 

The Disclaimer at the bottom of the DVC website seems much less promising than the rest of the content about the stem cell “therapies” for sale:

“Disclaimer: stem cell therapies are constantly being researched and developed, with many promising results recorded every day. However, no cellular therapies are widely considered standard practice as of today. No treatment offered by DVC Stem is intended as a cure for any condition, disease, or injury. All statements and opinions provided by this website are provided for educational and informational purposes only, and we cannot guarantee the effectiveness of any treatment on any one individual. The results will vary for each patient. It is vital that each potential patient does their own research based on the options we provide during the consultation so that they can make an informed decision on treatment.”

Review of DVC Stem claims of treating serious diseases

My concerns about DVC Stem in part relate to the very serious medical conditions that they claim they can treat with stem cells.

For instance, the site claims that they can treat ALS with stem cells. How do they back that up? I don’t believe they can.

At present, I see no concrete evidence that stem cells can be used safely and effectively to treat ALS. Overall, a few clinical trials are ongoing in the cells for ALS research space, but the data so far aren’t clear or definitive. For that reason selling a supposed ALS therapy now is a red flag to me.

DVC Stem also lists COVID-19 as something they can treat with stem cells. Here again, in my view there just aren’t concrete data to back up such an approach. Trials are ongoing with various kinds of cells, but it’s not known if any will be safe and effective for COVID.

There are even fewer data to back up the idea of stem cells for Alzheimer’s disease, another offering this clinic sells.

They also say that they can treat COPD with stem cell therapy. I just wrote a fact-check post on stem cell therapy for COPD. No one should be selling stem cells for COPD at this point in my view.

DVC stem COPD
DVC Stem page on COPD. Screenshot. Note the ever-present “Apply for treatment” button on their web pages.

Vitro Biopharma cell supplier

What kind of cells does the DVC clinic use?

They mention that they get their umbilical cord MSCs from a U.S. laboratory, which is “FDA registered”. Who is this American stem cell producer? A Colorado firm called Vitro Biopharma.

From the DVC Stem website (embedded URLs removed, emphasis mine):

DVC Stem is partnered with Vitro Biopharma, an award-winning medical laboratory located in Golden, Colorado, fully FDA-registered, cGMP compliant, ISO 9001, and ISO 13485 certified. Cells are only sourced from the American Association of Tissue Bank (AATB) certified suppliers of full-term, ethically US donated human umbilical cords. The selection of these donated tissues is exceptionally regulated and strict. All of its cells are expanded using safe and standard protocols and are then flown overnight in sub-zero containers directly to our clinic for immediate treatment. The cells are expanded to as many as 300 million cells before being administered. For more info on its partner lab, visit vitrobiopharma

Is it permissible for a U.S. firm to export a non-FDA-approved drug product (the allogeneic umbilical cord MSCs) to another country like the Cayman Islands? If permission is required, does Vitro Biopharma have the OK from the FDA or other government agencies for this export? I don’t know. The FDA regs on exports are very complicated.

The cellular product that Vitro Biopharma produces might be good quality. It sounds like the cells are prepared in a very solid lab. However, I’m not a big fan of the business model of supplying cells to clinics that then sell them for conditions for which they haven’t been proven safe and effective.

A brief look on the web found that Vitro Biopharma is a publicly-traded company here in the U.S. that was formerly called Vitro Diagnostics.

They apparently also work with or supply cells to a number of firms including another stem cell clinic called Giostar.

Where Google comes into play

Getting back to the Internet search part of this, why is Google important here?

While Google has had an ad ban in place against stem cell clinics since 2019, some clinics seem to be getting around that via mastering Google search.

For instance, DVC Stem is often ranking first or on the first page of stem cell-related search results these days. It probably relates to investing in something called search engine optimization or SEO. What’s SEO? It seems to equate to making Google happy with your site including in some very technical ways in terms of how your website is set up with code and such.Google stem cells

How does DVC Stem rank so highly? Is their SEO amazing? It’s hard to say, but they must be doing something right with Google. They do have a lot of content, but it generally feeds back into promoting sales of their unproven stem cells. On most pages I clicked through there was an “Apply for treatment” button potential customers can click.

Their relatively new appearance so favorably in Google search kind of reminds me of the trajectory of the stem cell promotion site Bioinformant. Interestingly, DVC Stem appears to be or was a Bioinformant client and so is the Giostar clinic firm mentioned earlier.

In addition, if you search for “DVC Stem” on Google, one of the People also ask questions Google brings up near the top of the page directs you to the Bioinformant site on “What stem cell clinics do you trust?”. Of course, Bioinformant is a big fan of DVC Stem.

Google ranks DVC over NIH, FDA, American Lung Association

Some simple searches highlight more of the issues with Google on stem cell topics.

If you search for “stem cell therapy for COPD” on Google, DVC Stem is the #1 result, ahead of results from NIH, the American Lung Association, and other clearly authoritative sites.

The DVC stem cell therapy for COPD page is promotional in nature. They want to bring in new customers for the unproven stem cell therapies at that $25,000 price tag.

DVC also ranks above sites like those of the NIH and the FDA as well as specialist societies or academies of physicians for some other important Google searches as well.

The big picture and looking ahead

In addition to DVC, some other clinics and clinic promotion sites also sit atop Google searches at times so this is a general problem.

In the big picture, you might think if you have biomedical content that is promotional in nature aiming to recruit new customers to get unproven injections of cells then that might impact your ability to rank well with Google. That’s what I thought at least.

So far that does not appear to be the case and it’s a big deal.

We’re not talking about searching for the best running shoes or a great recipe for lava cake.

When Google fails to negatively factor the promotion of unproven therapies into their Internet search results, many real people are potentially put at risk via the search engine. This includes both financially and in terms of their health.

It seems more broadly that the clinics also leverage people’s natural desire to search for hope. Looking for a chance to feel better or deal with a very serious illness is understandable. Sadly, in my view Google often provides false hope via its search results about stem cells that direct people to unproven clinics as the supposed authorities.

The search engine giant should do much better.

5 thoughts on “Review of DVC Stem & marketing of unproven therapies”

  1. Professor Knoepfler,

    Thank you for taking the time to review our website in such inquisitive detail. Although, I do want to shed some light on some misconceptions that were brought forth in this article.

    Firstly, I think it is important to note that our IRB-approved protocol is designed to collect safety and efficacy data related to the intravenous administration of culturally expanded mesenchymal stem cells.

    Our ongoing clinical study, albeit, patient-funded (The Effects of Cord Tissue Derived MSCs on the Treatment of Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation), is registered with the government of the Cayman Islands (Trial HPC/CTR/003) and thus we must adhere to strict regulations concerning patient safety.

    Many peer-reviewed studies have showcased mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) self-renewal, differentiation, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties which may play a role in reducing levels of inflammation throughout the body – our primary study endpoint. In-vitro (performed in a laboratory setting) and in-vivo (taking place in a living organism) studies have also supported the understanding of mechanisms, safety, and efficacy of MSC therapy in clinical applications.

    We are very different from clinics located in the United States or elsewhere that may be marketing “unproven therapies” for a variety of different conditions for a few reasons:

    1) We are required to submit efficacy data on a yearly basis to our IRB in order to continue enrolling patients. We are directly regulated by the Cayman Islands Government, which has strict criteria that must be followed in order to conduct our patient-funded clinical trials.

    2) We do not make any direct claims to be able to treat any specific condition – rather we utilize the information on our website as statistical tools using data collected from third-party peer-reviewed studies. We aim to help shed light on an area of medicine that is often overlooked or misunderstood.

    3) Our cell product and treatment protocols are highly regulated and patient safety is of utmost importance. Our cells are ethically sourced from AATB certified, US-donated, full-term human umbilical cords and processed in our award-winning partner medical laboratory located in the USA, which is fully FDA registered, cGMP compliant, ISO 9001, and ISO 13485 certified. The cells are tested to ISCT standards for viability to ensure they meet minimum QA requirements multiple times before treatment. To ensure cell safety, we conduct advanced therapy testing for sterility, endotoxins, mycoplasma, HIV-1/HIV-2, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Syphilis. We also conduct confirmation of identity URMC Flow Cytometry testing to ensure post-thaw viability, and MSC phenotype expression (CD73+, CD90+, CD105, etc.)

    4) We are extremely transparent with any inquiries concerning our protocols, efficacy data, and cell product, we never aim to mislead anyone or make false claims on our website that cannot be backed up with real data.

    Our protocol is designed in such a way as to ensure patient safety – this would not be possible if there were not hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that came before ours that showcased the safety of mesenchymal stem cells derived from umbilical cord tissue when used in a clinical setting.

    Unfortunately, we do not have any control over the way Google propagates information on their search engine, nor do we have any control over the costs associated with our clinical study.

    Once again, we appreciate the write-up and your dedication to moving the regenerative medicine industry forward, in a positive direction.

  2. The efficacy is sketchy with stem cell treatments but can you give us a place tgat at least has valud claims for viable , high numbers of stem cells for injection

  3. Good breakdown, but people go to DVC because they’re desperate. It would be much more helpful if instead of breaking them down, you simply provided more reputable stem cell clinic is the US that can provide the correct conditions that stem cell is having a positive impact on.

  4. There is a Company advertising stem cell therapy called R 3 Stem cell Therapy. This is located in Tijuana , Mexico, I was just about to go for therapy treatment but a second thought about the cost. I thought I believe them because they show testimonials on their web. Could you please exert a little effort about this Clinic? Could you please tell me the cost of going to Germany or to other countries to have a stem cell procedure?

    1. I have written before about R3 and in my opinion there are real reasons for concern about it.
      https://ipscell.com/?s=r3+stem
      I’m not sure about the cost of going to Germany or other countries but going outside the US brings additional risks such as some countries not really having patient protections if something goes wrong the same way that many states in the US have such as malpractice laws.

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