Thoughts on death of stem cell clinic leader Dr. Mark Berman

Over the past dozen years as I’ve written about stem cell clinics here on The Niche I’ve gotten to know many of those running the clinics including Dr. Mark Berman of Beverly Hills.

It was therefore kind of a shock to learn that Berman died of last month. Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times reported yesterday that Berman’s death was related to COVID-19. I haven’t seen any obituary yet despite Berman reportedly dying about a month ago.

I always thought of Berman as this robust physician with limitless energy. However, COVID has taken about a million American lives and many of those deaths have seemed unexpected.

Dr. Mark Berman, Elliot Lander
Drs. Elliot Lander (left) and Mark Berman (right) of Cell Surgical Network.

Dr. Mark Berman and Cell Surgical network

Dr. Berman and his business partner Dr. Elliot Lander have run the largest chain of unproven stem cell clinics in the U.S. for many years. This controversial chain, called Cell Surgical Network, is headquartered out of Beverly Hills.

I’ve written about Cell Surgical Network many times and interviewed Lander and Berman more than once. The network sells unproven “fat stem cells” for many different health conditions. These cellular preps from adipose tissue are also called stromal vascular fraction or SVF. The FDA has defined SVF as a drug requiring premarket approval. Berman and Lander did not have that approval, but disagreed that the material was a drug.

Update: There are potentially serious risks to SVF, especially if it is used without good data to back it up. Severe side effects such as loss of vision have in some rare cases been reported at Cell Surgical Network clinics over the years.

Such risks are part of the reason that I have been an outspoken critic of Cell Surgical Network. Even so, our many interactions over the years were almost entirely cordial. I think we only talked once on the phone, but Berman was polite and friendly. Once the FDA went for the injunction, however, things turned tenser and I heard from a lawyer at times.

Berman proposed to treat COVID with stem cells

There had been a sense from the clinic network leadership of the almost limitless potential of the fat-based cellular preps to treat human diseases.

I was skeptical due to lack of strong data for almost any condition.

Most recently they had proposed treating COVID-19 with stem cells and may have already been testing such an unproven intervention on patients, but I’m not 100% clear on that.

More broadly, the idea of cell therapy for COVID has captured some scientists’ hope. However, a student and I found that most clinical trials of cell therapy for COVID were not designed to provide robust assessments of safety and efficacy.

Some have also been proposing the idea of stem cells as a preventative measure against getting COVID-19. There are no data to support that idea.

Cell Surgical Network future without Berman

What happens now?

Will the big network chain be able to continue largely as is without Dr. Berman?

A major court case here in California is pending on an injunction against Cell Surgical Network sought by the FDA. The Cell Surgical Network lawsuit could go either way. Much but not all of the case centers on the question of whether SVF is a drug.

Even if the clinic network prevails, things will be more challenging without Berman. My sense was that he was a huge source of energy and enthusiasm.

While his son Sean has been active in the stem cell space, he is not a physician. Who will inherit Dr. Berman’s share of Cell Surgical Network and the local stem cell clinic(s)? I don’t know if Dr. Berman had more than one child.

The FDA will almost certainly appeal if they lose this California court case. With the appeals court siding with the FDA in the other similar case in Florida, the agency might ultimately prevail here in California federal district court too. We just don’t know. That uncertainty could be hanging over things for the network moving forward.

If the network loses the California injunction case they might appeal. In that scenario it’s going to be much harder to imagine them continuing on the same large scale in some modified form without Dr. Berman. In that scenario, is it possible they wouldn’t appeal the ruling?

However the court case turns out, more broadly the unproven stem cell clinic world has lost arguably one of its most passionate advocates.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on death of stem cell clinic leader Dr. Mark Berman”

  1. Mark was my doctor. He performed fat injections to my face which took off many years. I am now 82 and no one can believe it. I really admired Mark and really miss him.

  2. I have just learned of my friend Mark Berman’s death I still don’t believe it he was only 69 years old fit fine and robust full of life very intelligent had at least empty 25 more years of life . What on Earth could have killed Doctor Berman Knowing him as I do I think I would rather believe hes gone off to a South Pacific island and said screw all of this I hope this is true my friend happy Go lucky mark Berman this is your friend Marilyn Bennett yes it’s me dear I hope none of this is true and you’re living happy somewhere on a South Pacific island love you always.

  3. My husband and I have been patients of Dr. Berman with much success. He was a notable pioneer, maverick and a very kind compassionate doctor. With pending patents, writing books, international offices (I believe in China}, involved in research, being president for many terms of Cosmetic Surgery, as well as running his own practice, he pushed boundaries and barriers with the idea of improving the human condition. We are very sad of his passing and condolences to friends, family and colleagues.

  4. Ginger Carpenter

    I have been a patient of Dr. Lander and Dr. Berman for over 15 years.

    I feel Dr. Berman and Dr. Lander are both very honest doctors. I have sent people to them that they have told they cannot help them.
    I am going to miss Mark Berman, he was a genuine human being who cared about his fellow man. He loved the healing power, he felt and I agree, that stem cells could do for the practice of medicine.

  5. Dr Berman was an amazing doctor . For almost 2 years I was unable to bend my knees duento pain caused by a lack of cartilage and therefore could not be mobile. The doctors here after looking at my mri told me that I’d require 2 knee replacements within a year or so . This was 6 years ago when I was 64 . I decided to look at other options and after reading of the successful recoveries of many others with similar conditions I gave the stem cell network a try. My standing x-ray indicated that I still had some cartilage in my knees but there were areas of contact. I went for treatment and fat tissue was extracted from my bum fat , centrifuged , to separate the stem cells , then injected into the affected joints in my knees which were severely affected. I am now going on 71 and since this treatment I have been 1000% better and perfect .. I am fully and perfectly mobile and can even climb tall radio towers and hike the most rigorous mountains . I am willing to testify in court for this FDA hearing. Please don’t condemn this science because it is vital that it continues. There are additional stem cell treatments that I have had after tearing all cartilage in both hands after uprighting a 400 pound heliax cable spool ,and a hand doctor here in Canada told me I would require fusion of most of my hand as I had destroyed many junctions . I have MRIs to backup everything that I am saying and best evidence is how I am today. I am a radio and electronics scientist and have the necessary ability to help argue this pending FDA case .
    Please don’t comment negatively until you have really educated yourself.
    Thank you
    Howard Rosen/ Quebec Canada

    [email protected]

  6. Dr. Niro Sivathasan, M.D.

    I don’t have adequate knowledge to comment on the late Dr. Berman’s work in regenerative medicine; however, I am confidently able to state that Mark Berman was an excellent and intelligent colleague who sincerely meant well, and who had boundless energy and passion for his work. He was certainly respected amongst the surgical community.

  7. Funny how when someone dies all of a sudden he is a saint …that’s all I’m saying …if the guy was so nice…and was doing this all out of the goodness of his heart he would not have charged so much and he would have not been running around attacking people that do real science

    I’m sorry to be crass and insensitive but let’s call a spade a spade

  8. I’ve known Mark Berman since his high school days and then through college and medical school. Whatever one believes about stem cell research, Mark strongly believed in it, and was not trying to put anything over on anyone. He was ethical and cared deeply about his patients and the study of stem cells. I believe he even visited China and other countries to learn more about research. I think Hilzek’s article (in an on-line post from the L.A. Times) was malicious and un-called for. It is with deep saddest that I’ve learned of Dr. Berman’s death. A real tragedy!

  9. Dean Schneider

    Thanks for writing this non biased article on Dr. Berman and his stem cell clinics. Dr. Berman was very fine plastic surgeon who believed strongly that stem cells were the wave of the future. He is sorely missed by his family, friends, and patients.

  10. Thanks for Modeling a reasonable response. It is nice to see that people can have their disagreements yet still be respectful of one another.

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