TGIF: Craziest stem cell stories of the week

I have to admit a small fascination for tabloid, wildly over the top stories about stem cells.

Maybe it’s just that I need a good laugh to escape the black hole of academia at times even if only momentarily?

Of course some crazy stem cell stories reflect actually dangerous situations for patients, but that doesn’t make these tales any less weird.

Janice DickinsonBy far the weirdest stem cell story of the past week is that of former supermodel Janice Dickinson who, according to SFGate, flew with her beau Rocky to China for an anti-aging stem cell treatment at the Blue Horizon Stem Cell Clinic.

I’m guessing she wants to look and feel more like she did decades ago on Vogue. Who doesn’t want to feel a bit younger, but some are willing to go to more extreme measures.

The “therapy” for Dickinson apparently consisted of an allogeneic transplant of human placental stem cells.

Dickinson tells Star magazine, “If anybody is going to have a state-of-the-art, revolutionary skin-care miracle, it’s going to be me, with my hand out, first in line. My skin has gone from grey to rosy pink, and I feel great…!

Sounds impressive, huh? Keep in mind that Dickinson is now apparently a spokesperson for the clinic. She goes on to rave about the treatment and claim some unusual benefits. The cells seem to be administered by injection, here, there, and apparently everywhere in the body.:

“My skin is just amazing. My face and legs and my hands and my feet and my vagina and my butt. Everything got so smooth. My life has improved tremendously!”


“I flew 24 hours to China with my fiance, Rocky, and went directly from the airport to the hospital, where I was prepped for the infusion… I woke up at 3am the following morning energized like there was no tomorrow. Rocky had the infusion too, and he and I had some of the best sex we’ve had in years!

What the…?

Apparently Dickinson is talking up the Chinese stem cell clinic to her fellow celebs, sometimes with not such positive results. The NY Daily News reports that Dickinson was pumping the clinic at a celeb party, but that some, including Jane Fonda, were not impressed.

My take? This is potentially dangerous and I can’t really see any reason it’d work. When celebs get dubious stem cell treatments and then publicly pitch them, it puts the public at risk.

One of the other craziest stem cell stories of the week was the news (reported by The Raw Story) out of the Philippines about how the Filipino rich and famous are increasingly turning to stem cells to “fight” aging.

The story featured one Cynthia Carrion-Norton, who is a member of the Philippine Olympic Committee and a former undersecretary for medical tourism. That latter government position is an interesting one indeed, huh? It’s actually not that surprising because the Philippine government is very bullish on promoting stem cell tourism to the country.

Carrion-Norton and many other politicos in her country have received stem cell interventions themselves and publicly endorse the procedures too. It’s unclear if they are compensated for doing so. Some of the treatments take place in the Philippines, while others take place in Germany:

Thai medical entrepreneur Bobby Kittichaiwong says he has a lucrative business catering to the Filipino elite, who pay $20,000 to visit his Villa Medica clinic in Germany for a more controversial form of stem cell therapy.

In this case the stem cells are supposed to fight aging.

Skeptical? Hold onto your hat because the stem cells in this case are not human, but rather are fetal sheep. They are the based of so-called “fresh cell” therapy.

The Raw Story says the clientele are mostly male and often includes public officials such as former Philippine president Joseph Estrada.

My opinion of this? It’s pure snake….er, sheep oil.

Philippines Investigating 3 Politician Deaths Allegedly From Stem Cells in Germany

The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) is reportedly (article from ABS-CBN News) investigating the recent deaths of 3 prominent politicians due to stem cell therapies via stem cell tourism in Germany at an as yet unidentified clinic.

The names of the politicians are unknown, but strangely enough today there’s another separate article on stem cells from the Philippine Daily Inquirer that mentions 3 politicians who have received stem cell treatments:

A number of politicians have been reported to have used stem cell therapy, including former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and former Sen. Ernesto Maceda.

Of course these men may not be the politicians referred to in the ABS-CBN piece. Maceda was quoted:

“I am now convinced that my stem cell therapy is effective and that’s the reason why I’ve been able to keep up with the rigorous campaign schedule,” he said. “I feel 20 years younger.”

In the past the German stem cell clinic X-cell was notorious for being linked to a baby’s death.

PMA president Dr. Leo Olarte commented on the more recent case:

“They were given stem cells from sheep, rabbits and animals. They died after one year, they had late hypersensitivity reaction,” he said.

It sounds like a very horrible situation. More information is needed to get the bottom of this.

The ABS-CBN Foundation, presumably the outfit responsible for ABS-CBN News that reported the 3 politician deaths, is an advocacy group of some kind in the Philippines that works with Olarte ( see him with Gina Lopez, Managing Director of ABS-CBN in the pic below).

Olarte stem cells

Stem cells are generating a lot of buzz in the Philippines and apparently stem cell interventions of various kinds are becoming more common including a supposed aphrodisiac stem cell potion called Soup. No. 7. Thus, efforts to reign in dangerous stem cell interventions there are very important. At the same time some in the Philippines such as Olarte want to promote stem cell tourism as well it seems. It’s a fine line to walk

For example, in commenting to ABS-CBN News in the same article as about the German deaths, Olarte seems to be playing up the state of stem cell interventions in that country more generally:

Olarte said the country already has experts, who are members of the Philippine Society for Stem Cell Medicine (PSSCM), competent to perform the treatment in the Philippines.

“We have more or less 400 specialists,” he said, even noting that the stem cell treatment in the country is much cheaper by 50% than what is being sold abroad.

I’m not so convinced that even these supposedly okay stem cell “treatments” promoted by Olarte are proven safe or effective either even if they are cheaper.

The deaths of the three politicians in Germany are disturbing news and highlight the care that must be taken in regulating stem cell interventions to keep patients safe.

Please pass on bull testicles Soup No. 5 & on stem cell Soup No. 7

Soup No.5

Is this a “good” blog post to write as I gobble down my lunch in between working on grants….hmm, maybe not. Too late!

Stem cells are hot all around the globe, but they are particularly scorching hot in certain countries such as the Philippines.

There are an increasing number of news articles on stem cells and stem cell treatments out of news sources from the Philippines.

My white paper on stem cells for my Stem Cell Outreach Program for Education (SCOPE) in Tagalog (the official language of the Philippines) is generating relatively a lot of interest from there. Overall this blog gets 120 visits per week from the Philippines, up dramatically just since last year, which was higher than the year before.

In the Philippines, adult stem cell treatments are the rage.

I had a lady in an elevator here in the US said the following to me:

“Hey, aren’t you that stem cell guy?” (which was odd enough for me to be recognized that way)

She continued:

“I’m so excited about stem cells. They are really big in the Philippines, where I am from. You get a dozen injections of sheep stem cells throughout your body and then you literally are younger. Literally! Keep up the good work!”

Before I could say a word, she was gone, and I was left shaking my head. Uh, no, I neither work on nor advocate the clinical use of sheep stem cells.

I’m sure there is great, legitimate stem cell research including clinical research in the Philippines and I have deep respect for the country and all Filipinos, but it seems that dubious stem cell treatments are as big a problem there as they are in the US and other places.

For example, we have the case of so-called Soup No. 7.

What is Soup No. 7?

In the Philippines there are various remedies for health that are called “soups” colloquially.

For example, there is Soup No. 5 made of Bull testicles that is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. See image above form the urbanroamer.

Now there is Soup No. 7.

I was unable to find a recipe, but it is a stem cell potion of sorts that Filipinos are strongly recommended against taking by doctors (as per this recent news item):

Leo Olarte, vice president and spokesman for the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), said bogus stem cell products now proliferate.

“Products like soup number 7, which allegedly contain stem cells that can boost sexual appetite, are now being sold, but all these are fake and fraudulent,” he said.

What the heck does stem cell soup have to do with sex? Not sure.

Not only are these soups unlikely to help anyone, but they could also be harmful. The article goes on to say:

Christian Emmanuel Mancao, of the Philippine Society for Stem Cell Medicine (PSSCM), said stem cells could not be turned into powder and put in vials because the body needs it alive in order to multiply and replace dead cells.

He said the stem cells must be injected into the body for it to be effective, and consumers must also ensure they use only products approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The PSSCM had a conference just last month on stem cells. I wonder how it went. I hope the tone was to promote safety and efficacy.

Stem cells are likely to only increase in hype around the world including both in the US and the Philippines. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I believe the US has its own big problems with bogus stem cell treatments so I am by no means singling out the Philippines.

I am advocate for education and patient safety across the globe. Stem cell soup is something you should definitely pass on. Have something delicious instead from the amazing offerings of Filipino cooking such as lechón.