A nation of stem cell miracles? CNN puff piece on clinic patient & Trump blows it

CelltexWould you believe in a stem cell miracle?

Sometimes the mainstream media stumbles in its coverage of the stem cell world and a recent CNN puff piece on a patient of stem cell clinic Celltex is a prime example of just how extreme this can get.

The CNN piece focuses on a Celltex patient who self-reports perceived big improvement after receiving the non-FDA approved offerings of the Texas stem cell clinic. Celltex is most famous for their number one customer and supporter Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas and now DOE Secretary in the Trump administration. For more background on Celltex including the warning letter it received from the FDA, you can see archived posts here.

CNN stem cells

Jacqueline Howard of CNN wrote about how the patient was invited to and attended Trump’s big speech before Congress recently. Howard mostly blew it on this article as she provided no background on the controversy involving Celltex, its past run in with the FDA, and how its offerings that it sells to patients are not FDA-approved as safe and effective. Minor details, right?

What about the fact that these kinds of treatments cost the average patient thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars? Not important enough to mention?

And risks? No mention. The reality is that using adipose stem cells grown in a lab has sizable risks. Continue reading

Popular Science stem cell clinic article itself raising some red flags

Popular Science stem cellsPopular Science recently did a piece on stem cell clinics that has raised some red flags. The concerns in this case are not necessarily about the clinics per se, but rather the actual article itself.

There are a lot of stem cell clinics out there and for years they had a pretty consistent strategy of avoiding media attention. It’s almost as if they had a secret “fly under the radar” club to avoid negative PR.

However, today’s stem cell clinics are bolder and have adopted a new strategy: actively use the media as a tool for positive PR.

For instance, there is the Gordie Howe-Stemedica case that seems to keep on giving and giving PR to Stemedica and its Mexican partner Novastem. Amongst other things, they do some non-FDA approved stem cell interventions in Mexico. After months of positive PR on the Howe story for Stemedica including from Howe’s family who talked up the clinic, we all learned that the Howe family had become investors in Stemedica at some point.

Popular Science has, in my way of thinking, fallen into this kind of stem cell clinic PR web with a recent piece. Writer Tyler Graham worked for a long time on this story on stem cell clinic chain, Cell Surgical Network (CSN). During that time he contacted Leigh Turner and me for assistance on the story and quotes.

Tyler also became, by his own disclosure in his piece in Popular Science, a patient of CSN, but we were not made aware of that. Tyler reports in his article having got a therapy from CSN doctor Mark Berman for a long-term, very troublesome back condition and gives a remarkable account of how the treatment apparently helped him. A cure is suggested.

Then there is the title of the piece: THE CURE-ALL.

There is no question mark on that title and the implication in the article is that the writer was cured of his back problem by CSN. The net result of this article is likely a drive of new business to CSN.

To his credit, Tyler does raise numerous questions about stem cell clinic offerings. He also reports on another patient (Lamon Brewster) who in the long run was not helped by CSN so that part of the article is good for balance, but overall my sense is that the article is very problematic.

The piece has some statements that sound promotional:

“That’s not to say Berman is doing anything illegal by offering a treatment he doesn’t fully comprehend. He’s not. He’s not even doing anything unethical. He is healing patients who could not be healed.”

These statements are questionable.

In the end this article is a big disappointment.

Because some high profile people have received free treatment (e.g. Gordie Howe) from stem cell clinics I asked Tyler if he received any kind of discount, free treatment, or other benefit from Dr. Berman or CSN, but got no reply. I also asked the fact checker for this story, Rebecca Geiger, about this question, but she did not reply either.

If I do hear from them I will definitely post it. It could well be that full price was paid and there were no other perks, but it was a reasonable question to ask.

If you want to see a recent in my view more balanced, investigative piece of journalism on stem cell clinics, I’d recommend taking a look at the great piece by the Associated Press (AP) by Matt Perrone.

Conan O’Brien Makes Stem Cell Joke on Test Tube Burger

Conan O'Brien Stem CellsOn his show, Conan O’Brien on Monday (7/29/13) made a stem cell joke, perhaps without even realizing it.

The joke was reprinted in the SacBee this morning (see image at right).

The joke is based on the recent development of a synthetic hamburger made from stem cells in a lab (you can read more here).

Conan calls the stem cell-produced hamburger a “test tube hamburger”.

Interestingly, Conan says he would try it!

Below left is a picture of the prototype stem cell produced meat and I gotta say it looks really disgusting.

test tube burger

You can watch the monologue here on video and the test tube hamburger part starts around the 6:10 mark.

Here’s the text of this part of Conan’s monologue:

OH, THIS IS EXCITING NEWS.
IN GERMANY, RESEARCHERS WERE RECENTLY ABLE TO STOP LIGHT FROM TRAVELING FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME.
ISN'T THAT AMAZING?
HERE'S HOW THEY DID IT.
THEY PLACED THE LIGHT ON UNITED AIRLINES.
APPARENTLY YOU'RE FANS OF THAT AIRLINE AND YOU HAVEN'T HAD A PROBLEM.
MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE SAID AMERICAN.
OH, THAT GUY -- ONE GUY'S MAD AT AMERICAN.
THE INVENTOR OF THE WORLD'S FIRST ARTIFICIAL TEST TUBE HAMBURGER, TRUE, SAID THAT, "IT LOOKS, FEELS AND HOPEFULLY TASTES LIKE MEAT."
THAT'S WHAT HE SAID.
HE WAS IMMEDIATELY SUED BY ARBY'S FOR STEALING THEIR SLOGAN.
WOULD YOU TRY A TEST TUBE HAMBURGER?
ANDY: NO, I WOULD NOT.
CONAN: I WOULD.
I WOULD.
ANDY: ALL RIGHT.
CONAN: I WOULD.
ANDY: THAT'S THE ONLY WAY WE DIFFER.
[LAUGHTER]
CONAN: EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT US IS EXACTLY THE SAME.
I WOULD TRY A TEST TUBE HAMBURGER.
IF IT WAS 4:00 A.M. AND THERE WAS NO FOOD IN THE HOUSE AND I COULD MAKE A HAMBURGER WITH A TEST TUBE, I WOULD DO IT.
ANDY: YOU DIDN'T FRAME IT LIKE THAT.