Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Stem Cell Video Flap: A Look at the California Firm Backing the 'Docu-Series'

A California physician deeply enmeshed in the national ruckus over a controversial, stem cell video has -- according to his web site -- "achieved world-renown as a pioneer in the area of stem cell research."

He is Mark Berman, one of the co-founders of Cell Surgical Network (CSN), which partly financed the lengthy, online video, "Healthcare Revolution." At least 12 scientists, other experts and institutions reacted with shock last week when they became fully aware of its approach and financing. They asked that they be removed from the film.

Mark Berman,  photo from Berman web site

Berman's firm has been sued by the Food and Drug Administration as part of an effort to curb untested and potentially dangerous stem cell treatments. The number of dubious stem cell clinics has grown sharply in recent years. Estimates are that 1,000 exist nationally, with the highest percentage in California.

On Sunday he emailed the irate scientists and asked them to reconsider their requests for removal. None apparently did. 

What follows is a brief look at Berman's history and that of his firm, which has offices in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, Ca., and about 100 affiliates nationwide and more abroad. 

But first, the text of his response to questions from the California Stem Cell Report about the video and its financing. The "docu-series" was produced by Bobby and Sara Sheehan and their firm, Working Pictures.

"I met Bobby and Sara when they came to interview me at my office for another project they were working on a couple years ago. We were commenting on all the amazing work being done in the field of cell therapy and stem cell research, yet all the surrounding controversy. A lot of this was due to people putting random unmatched cells into patients for a whole host of conditions and not adequately tracking the follow up. We thought it would be really important to show some of the world’s greatest minds, who have devoted, in some cases, decades to advancing this field, and highlight all the great work that’s currently being done to advance healthcare.
"I’m not sure what the entire series cost. We were just a tiny part of this film. Bobby and Sara spent over a year flying around the world to get this project done. they worked completely independently from us. Neither I, nor anyone in CSN, paid anyone that was interviewed or promised them compensation. We have zero financial interest in Working Pictures, nor do they have any financial interest in CSN. 
"This whole project is about educating people on the work being done to advance healthcare and we think it’s important that the word gets out."
Berman's website says he has practiced cosmetic surgery since 1983 and started his stem cell practice in 2010.  He is co-founder of Cell Surgical Network and the California Stem Cell Treatment Center

Erin Allday of the San Francisco Chronicle reported last year: 
"For more than three decades, Berman’s focus was breast augmentations and face-lifts. He invented a pocket-like device that can be implanted into the breast to produce better-looking, safer results from augmentation procedures. He calls it his “Sistine Chapel.”

With his business partner, Rancho Mirage (Riverside County) urologist Elliot Lander, Berman has built the largest chain of stem cell clinics in the country. Their Cell Surgical Network has more than a hundred affiliates in 33 states — including 38 clinics in California alone — selling treatments they claim will fix everything from knee pain to symptoms of multiple sclerosis.But over the past eight years, Berman has reached far past his specialty into a realm of highly sophisticated, still-nascent medicine. He’s become one of the country’s most outspoken and notorious providers of so-called consumer stem cell therapies: using human stem cells to treat a wide variety of ailments despite little or no scientific proof that they work.

“As a cosmetic surgeon, it’s kind of a joke that I’m at the center of this universe,” Berman said in an interview last fall (2017). “But I’m kind of ground zero.”

"Seven months later, his words became darkly prophetic: In May, Berman and his partner were targeted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA requested an injunction that, if approved by a federal judge, would stop them from selling stem cell therapies. 
"The FDA issued a similar request against a separate operation in Florida, U.S. Stem Cell Clinic.

"Their clinics, though, are just some among several hundred that have popped up across the country in recent years. They are renegade outposts operating with little legitimacy and oversight at the frontier of what is otherwise a highly promising field of medicine."
Here is a short list of other sources of information involving Berman, his treatments and  enterprises: 
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Stem Cell Video Flap: A Look at the Firm that Produced the "Docu-Series"

Bobby Sheehan discusses his personal and professional background in this YouTube clip.

Who are Bobby and Sara Sheehan, not to mention Working Pictures? 

It is a question that arises from their controversial "docu-series" that raised a ruckus this week in the small world of stem cell science.

Their online video, "Healthcare Revolution," was an unpleasant surprise for at least 12 scientists and other experts who learned only a few days ago they were appearing in the production. All of them asked to be removed.

They believed that they had been misled about how interviews that they had given many months ago were going to be used. 

They objected to sharing an electronic platform with dubious enterprises that are current targets of the federal government's actions to shut down dangerous and unproven stem cell treatments. 

Executives of those firms also appeared in the video in a manner that was considered a case of "false equivalency."

Earllier this week, the California Stem Cell Report queried Sara Sheehan about the video and their links to a California stem cell firm, Cell Surgical Network, with 100 national affiliates that the Food and Drug Administration is suing. 

The full text of her response runs below. But first a little background drawn from the Internet.

Sara Sheehan is executive producer for Working Pictures, according to its web site.  Her husband, Bobby, is producer, director, writer and cameraman. Their web site says Bobby had a "nomadic and slightly feral" upbringing. It also said, 
Sara Sheehan
 Working Pictures photo
"Collectively, they have produced well over a hundred hours of content in the form of online and conventional TV series, documentaries, and narrative films. Bobby has directed and lensed over 300 commercials…and they have produced three talented children."

The Sheehans are also associated with another enterprise called "Mortal," which deals with death and spiritual awareness. 

The California Stem Cell Report asked Sara Sheehan about the cost of the stem cell docu-series, which was partly financed by Cell Surgical Network, and any other financial ties with that firm.  Here is the verbatim text of her reply.
"I appreciate your asking us to provide additional information and I have answered your questions below: 
"We set out to produce a documentary series about the very complex regenerative medicine landscape. There is a lot of information out there and consumers are faced with a daunting amount of opposing opinions and concerns. We felt that by showing the entire landscape - including advances in research that will be providing hope to patients years down the line, the fact that many consumers are going overseas for treatments, the legislation that has been enacted in this country, patients who have gotten treatments in this country and other countries and their outcomes, and the lawsuits- we would educate the consumers who would see this and allow them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones. 
"We looked for financing for the series, which took a year to make. We had investors, Drs. Berman and Landers (of Cell Surgical Network) were part of that team. Never did they ask to see edits, to control the content or interfere with the story in any way. That was the deal. The rest of the costs we bootstrapped ourselves: our investors did not pay us for our time and we covered many costs ourselves. We are not connected in any other way to Cell Surgical Network or any other regenerative medicine provider, nor do we stand to benefit financially from any procedures or products being marketed. We have no family members connected to Cell Surgical Network or any other regenerative medicine providers. The bottom line is that we are filmmakers who attempted to outline what is clearly a heated and emotionally charged environment. Ironically, Cell Surgical Network is featured most prominently in an episode entitled The Lawsuits, outlining the cases against US Stem Cell and Cell Surgical Network. We had updated that episode to reflect the decision against US Stem Cell. 
"We never paid anyone to be interviewed. In fact I have NEVER paid anyone to be interviewed for this project or any other project.
"After a year of interviewing and editing as many and as varied voices as possible, the resulting series is 12 episodes long. We organized the information by subject and feel we had a comprehensive product that provided a good, basic overview of the field that included many opposing points of view. There is a tremendous amount of information contained in the series that we felt showed as much of the landscape as we were allowed to capture.
"Unfortunately, a number of people expressed concern about being included in the project and we immediately responded that we would honor their wishes to be removed."
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 17, 2019

LA Times on Stem Cell Video Flap: 'Infomercial,' Hype and How the Hooha All Began

The Los Angeles Times this afternoon reported on the uproar over a stem cell video has left some researchers across the nation incensed and calling the film an "infomercial" that ballyhooed unproven therapies.

Twelve scientists and other experts have asked to be removed from the video that was partly financed by a California firm that is being sued federal regulators to halt the potentially dangerous treatments.

The Times piece was authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Michael Hiltzik who has written previously about the unregulated stem cell industry. He said,

"If there’s anything that drives legitimate stem cell scientists up a wall, it’s their being lumped in with clinics offering unwary customers supposedly effective disease treatments through stem cell injections."
The firm that helped fund the "Healthcare Revolution" is Cell Surgical Network, which is based in Southern California but has 100 affiliates across the country and more overseas. The Food and Drug Administration has sued the firm to halt the use of what it calls unproven and potentially dangerous treatments. 

The film was produced by Bobby and Sara Sheehan over the period of about a year. Hiltzik wrote,
“'It’s a package that’s very misleading and not balanced,' says Evan Snyder of Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. 'It was pitched like it would be a ‘Nova,’' he said, referring to the scientific series produced for the Public Broadcasting System, 'but it came out like an infomercial.' 
"Lawrence S.B. Goldstein of UC San Diego says he was led to believe the producers were making a 'balanced, sober documentary.' The trailer for the series posted on its website, however, was infused with hype—'It sounded like miracle cures from stem cells are here today—‘Give us your money and we’ll fix you up,’ giving false hope to people suffering from terrible diseases.'”
The Times piece laid out how the flap erupted just days before the video was to begin today. Hiltzik wrote,
"It was only last week that the true nature of the project emerged. That’s when Cell Surgical Network sent customers and former customers an email announcing the documentary’s upcoming premiere. The email landed in the in-box of Doris Tyler, a Florida resident who is suing Cell Surgical Network and affiliates for allegedly leaving her blind via a stem cell treatment for an eye condition.
"Tyler alerted her attorney, Andrew Yaffa, who passed the alarm on to Loring at Scripps. Loring scanned the documentary’s website and noticed that she and numerous academic colleagues were featured along with purveyors of unproven treatments. On June 13, she says, “I sent messages to everyone I knew” on the roster of participants.
"Subsequently, Sheehan disclosed that Cell Surgical Network had partially funded the series, deepening the alarm and prompting most, if not all, the academic participants to withdraw. 
“That was the kiss of death for me,” Loring told me. “I do not want to be associated with those guys at all.'”
Loring said in a letter to the Sheehans,
 "You have placed my interview among those of people who are charlatans and thieves...."
Sphere: Related Content

Stem Cell Video Flap: CEO of California Stem Cell Agency Backs Out of Internet 'Docu-Series'

The president of the $3 billion California stem cell agency has removed herself from a controversial online video that placed her in the electronic company of leaders of firms targeted by federal regulators.

In an email early today to the producers of the lengthy video, Maria Millan referred to an appeal for her to reconsider her previous request to back out of the "docu-series."

"I am not swayed by the letter from Mark Berman of Cell Surgical Network and, in fact, it deepens my concern. I maintain the same position and concerns expressed in my note dated June 15. Please remove my interview from the documentary and my picture and name from any associated materials —including this link- please remove me as an “episode expert” on"
The video, titled the "Healthcare Revolution" was partly financed by Cell Surgical Network, which has offices in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, Ca., plus about 100 affiliates nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration(FDA)has sued the firm to halt what the FDA says are unproven and potentially dangerous treatments.

A number of researchers and others pictured in the video have also asked to be removed, saying they were misled about how their interviews would be used. San Diego-area stem cell researcher Jeanne Loring declared that being in the video placed her among "charlatans and thieves" who prey on desperate patients.

Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known, explained what led to the agency's involvement with the video producers, Bobby and Sara Sheehan. In response to questions from the California Stem Cell Report, McCormack said, 
"When the Sheehans asked us to be part of the series we looked at previous work they had done and reviewed the questions they wanted to ask. We knew they were going to talk to a wide range of people for the series but we were sufficiently reassured that we initially agreed to the interviews feeling it was important to have our voice heard.

"However, once we learned who was partially funding the project and saw the trailer we felt it risked giving a distorted view for anyone who saw it and that it inadvertently legitimized opportunistic, bad actors. It’s unfortunate these so-called 'clinics' are trying to hijack the reputation of legitimate stem cell therapies and cash in on scientists who are doing serious, scientifically sound research....
"I think the fact that virtually all of the highly regarded scientists interviewed for the series have withdrawn from it, people like UC San Diego’s Larry Goldstein and Scripps Jeanne Loring, says everything that needs to be said. None of us who have spent years warning the public about the dangers of going to clinics offering unproven and unapproved stem cell therapies want anything to do with something that equates FDA-sanctioned clinical trials with unsanctioned and unregulated stem cell therapies."
The flap over the video comes as the number of dubious stem cell clinics is estimated to exceed 1,000 nationally, with the highest percentage in California. The state has been slow to regulate the clinics whose treatments have reportedly led to illness and blindness. Legislation aimed at the clinics is all but dead in the legislature, leaving the regulation solely in the hands of the state Medical Board. 

The board said today that it has no authority over clinics -- only physicians. The board has been mulling over the matter for about 11 months. But its two-person "task force" has yet to schedule a public meeting.   Sphere: Related Content

California State Medical Board Says it Has No Authority to Regulate Dubious Medical Clinics

The California state Medical Board wants to make it clear that it does not regulate stem cell clinics -- only physicians. 

An email from its spokesman this morning said it is concerned that readers might misunderstand an item on the California Stem Cell Report last week dealing with the pace of state regulation of "snake oil" enterprises.

Carlos Villatoro said,
"I would like to request a correction/clarification in your story. The Board does NOT regulate stem cell clinics and has no authority take ANY action against stem cell clinics. "The Board’s sole jurisdiction lies in the physicians who work at the clinics, who may or may not be performing stem cell procedures.   The statement in your story,  'A spokesman for the California Medical BoardCarlos Villatoro, said this week that a task force of the board is expected to hold its first meeting this summer to deal with stem cell clinics,' is inaccurate and we are concerned that your readers will think that we regulate stem cell clinics, which we do not. "The Board would appreciate a correction/clarification. Please let me know if you have any further questions."
In a response to Villatoro, David Jensen, publisher of the California Stem Cell Report said, 
"Thank you. I will run a separate item containing your email comments. The board's position is important and significant. However, I do not think a correction is necessary. The clinics are mostly run by physicians. 'Dealing' with clinics means dealing with those who run them, i.e., physicians. I would glad to discuss this with your executive director or the chair of the board if you wish. Thanks."
Sphere: Related Content

Stem Cell Video Flap: World Stem Cell Summit Withdraws from 'Docu-Series'

The chairman of the World Stem Cell Summit today said that he has asked that his organization be removed from any mention in a controversial online video about stem cell therapies.

Bernard Siegel, chair of the Summit, said,

"My organization's stand on the 'Bad Actors' is clear from the numerous posting and interviews. We support the FDA in enforcement actions and condemn the actions of the purveyors of bogus treatments, false and misleading claims."
Siegel's remarks came in response to questions this morning from the California Stem Cell Report. He said that he also asked that his interview be withdrawn from the 10-part "docu-series." Some of interviews that appear in the video were done at one of the Summit conferences. 

A number of researchers and others have also asked that they be removed the video, "Healthcare Revolution," because of its ties to a California stem cell firm, Cell Surgical Network (CSN), that is the target of federal regulators. The CEO of the California stem cell agency is also listed as an interviewee in the video. 

Siegel said that the World Stem Cell Summit has no financial connection to CSN, which partially financed the video. He also said the Summit had no financial ties to Working Pictures, the firm that produced the video or its principals, Bobby and Sara Sheehan.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking to halt treatments provided by CSN, which has about 100 affiliates nationwide and more overseas.  CSN has offices in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, Ca. 
(For more information on the FDA action, see here and also here.

Here is the full text of Siegel's response to the California Stem Cell Report.
"The Sheehans appeared to be, by all accounts, legitimate filmmakers with a long track record of quality productions. They did film several interviews at the World Stem Cell Summit for their documentary. The Summit team was unaware of any links the production had with Cell Surgical Network. We were surprised last week when the trailer was released and saw how the series was being framed promotionally.

"The Summit, or any other organization that I am affiliated with, certainly has no connection to the Cell Surgical Network financial or otherwise. Upon learning that CSN funded the production, I withdrew my own interview from the project and requested the removal of any reference to my organization.

"We have no financial ties to the Sheehans or their production company. I have spoken to Sara and Bobby Sheehan who instantly agreed to remove any individual who sought to remove his or her interview from the series. They have proven themselves totally cooperative to date in that regard. They appear to be caught in the middle of a war, unfortunately lacking the depth of understanding.

"My organization's stand on the 'Bad Actors' is clear from the numerous posting and interviews. We support the the FDA in enforcement actions and condemn the actions of the purveyors of bogus treatments, false and misleading claims."
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Stem Cell Video Flap: California Firm Asks Concerned Scientists to Reconsider Requests for Removal

This is a clip from the web site for the video "The Healthcare Revolution."
More details emerged late today about a controversial Internet video backed by a California stem cell firm that is being sued by federal government to halt what allegedly are "unproven and potentially dangerous treatments."

The video features the CEO of the $3 billion stem cell agency, Maria Millan, and more than 80 other researchers and academics. The video website displays logos of academic institutions ranging from Stanford to the University of Cambridge. The site says the video will reveal that "stem cell technology that is said to be 10, 20, years down the road is actually here – NOW!"

Some of the researchers who appear in the video have asked to be removed because of its connection to Cell Surgical Network(CSN), which has offices in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, Ca. 
The firm said it has funded a portion of what it called "this important docuseries." CSN today asked concerned scientists to reconsider their requests. 

CSN has been sued by the Food and Drug Administration to  halt its treatment practices.

Jeanne Loring, professor emeritus from Scripps Research, is one of those scientists whose remarks were carried in the video. In an email, she said she only learned that she was in the video last week. The recording of her came from an interview that she did at the World Stem Cell Summit. 

Loring has been a longstanding foe of unregulated stem cell clinics. She wrote the producers of the video, Sara and Bobby Sheehan:

"As I have explained many times, to print reporters, community groups, and in video interviews, as a scientist with a moral compass, I cannot condone exploitation of desperate people who are led to believe that they will be cured or even helped by a clinic or a pill or any purported therapy that is not based in science.... 
"You have placed my interview among those of people who are charlatans and thieves, and I request that you remove all reference to me in the video and on your website." 
(See here for the full text of Loring's letter.)

The firm initially granted Loring's request but then late today appealed to her to change her mind. Loring refused. 

In her email today to Loring, Sara Sheehan cited a letter sent out today to "concerned stem cell scientists and doctors" by Mark Berman, co-founder of Cell Surgical Network. It appeared to be addressed to other researchers filmed for the video. 

Berman said his firm made "no effort to control (the) production" of the video. 

Berman told the researchers,
"Personally, I think a lot of the participants who want to drop out know little and/or nothing about the work CSN has been doing worldwide. They do not know about some of the amazing basic science research we have funded, nor do they know about the hundreds of patients that we have treated at no cost and hundreds at markedly reduced rates including dozens of patients that have had multiple deployments at no cost."
(The full text of Berman's letter can be found here.)
Sphere: Related Content

Text of Loring Letter Asking to be Removed from Stem Cell Video

Here is the text of email that stem cell scientist Jeanne Loring sent to Sara Sheehan in connection with the controversial "HealthRevolution" documentary. 

​"Dear Sara:
"When I was interviewed at the World Stem Cell Summit, I was misled about the context in which my interview would be placed. I was told that it would be an educational video about the progress of legitimate stem cell therapies.

"I am a staunch and outspoken opponent of clinics that flout the FDA regulations for stem cell treatments, and have met many people who have paid many thousands of dollars to obtain unregulated (and therefore unsafe) treatments that claim that stem cells will magically cure any disease.

"As I have explained many times, to print reporters, community groups, and in video interviews, as a scientist with a moral compass, I cannot condone exploitation of desperate people who are led to believe that they will be cured or even helped by a clinic or a pill or any purported therapy that is not based in science.

"I know you are young, but this is equivalent in history to the Laetrile scam of the 1970s. Thousands of desperate people emptied their wallets and obtained this alleged therapy before the FDA stepped in and banned it. Many were crushed and bankrupt; some died.

"'Stem cell' clinics are worse, because they can market their useless and dangerous products to a far larger audience.

"FDA leaders Scott Gottlieb and Peter Marks have denounced these unregulated clinics as “bad actors”, and I would go further - I think they are criminals.

"I use pluripotent stem cells to generate real cell types to replace cells that have died in disease. I have not seen any evidence that extracts from fat, or bone marrow, or products derived from placentas and umbilical cords have any medical value.

"You have placed my interview among those of people who are charlatans and thieves, and I request that you remove all reference to me in the video and on your website.

"I understand that you are good and honest film makers, so this should not be a difficult request. Please respond that you have removed me and I will not trouble you further."

"Jeanne Loring"
Sphere: Related Content

Text of Cell Surgical Network Letter re "Healthcare Revolution" video

Here is the text of the letter sent out today to scientists and others who were concerned about appearing in a controversial video about stem cell therapies.

Sphere: Related Content

Stem Cell Researchers Backing Away from Documentary Touting 'Greatest Paradigm Shift in Medical History'

What do Maria Millan, CEO of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, Larry Goldstein of UC San Diego, Thomas Murphy of Harvard/MIT  and Mark Berman of Cell Surgical Network have in common this morning?

They are all loosely listed as "trusted sources" on a website ballyhooing a 10-part documentary involving stem cells. All are identified as taking part in the documentary. Berman's firm, however, is a target of the Food and Drug Administration, which is seeking to halt the enterprise's "unproven and potentially dangerous treatments." 

Erin Allday of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the connections in a story this weekend that said some of the scientists involved in the documentary, scheduled to be released tomorrow, want out of the online video because it is partly funded by Berman's firm. 

The documentary is titled "The Healthcare Revolution." The Internet address of Berman's firm is"  It also offers a book called "The Stem Cell Revolution." The business has offices in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, Ca., and is linked to reportedly dozens of similar enterprises.

Allday quoted Berman as saying in an email to patients last week,
“We have a wonderful docuseries coming out. It’s a whole production, not just about us. It’s going to enlighten people."
The website of the documentary features ebullient language about stem cells. "Stem cell technology that is said to be 10, 20 years down the road is actually here --  NOW!" reads one sentence on the video site.  The largest headline on the site said in bold red type, 

"This Must See Documentary Series Unveils the Greatest 
Paradigm Shift in Medical History"

Allday's story said some of the scientists involved in the documentary now say "they weren’t aware of who was backing the project when they agreed to participate...Some scientists said they fear the documentary may promote what they consider junk science."

Allday continued, 
"In fact, many of the scientists listed on the website have said repeatedly that stem cell therapies are still years away from being ready for patients. They have said that the hundreds of providers treating patients at for-profit clinics are selling 'snake oil' products that are worthless and potentially unsafe. No stem cell therapy currently sold at for-profit clinics has been approved by the FDA."
The Chronicle article said the California stem cell agency did not know who was financing the documentary when it agreed to participate.  A spokesman for the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, told Allday that the agency agreed to participate because it would provide an opportunity to promote its work and warn against dubious clinics. 

One scientist who was scheduled to appear in the documentary is Jeanne Loring, professor emeritus at Scripps Research in La Jolla. She told Allday, “I am a stalwart and outspoken critic of unapproved stem cell therapies. I don’t belong in their company."

She said the producers of the video agreed to remove her from the documentary. 

More than 80 physicians and scientists are listed as "trusted sources" or experts on the video website along with a number of major academic institutions, including Stanford, Harvard, John Hopkins, Yale and Oxford.  Also listed is Kristin Comella, chief scientific officer of U.S. Stem Cells, Inc., which earlier this month lost a key ruling in lawsuit filed by the FDA against it.  Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

California's Slow Pace on Stem Cell Snake Oil: State Medical Regulators May Take First Stab This Summer

California regulation of an industry that sells dubious and risky "stem cell" treatments now appears to be solely in the hands of the state Medical Board, which has been mulling the matter for at least 11 months.

Both nationally and in California, the number of unregulated clinics has risen sharply with estimates of more than 1,000 nationwide, with the largest number in California. 

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the $3 billion state stem cell agency, has described the fast-growing clinics as snake-oil enterprises.

The clinics peddle what they call stem cell treatments to desperate patients. The treatments cost thousands of dollars. Some patients have reported losing their vision as a result. Last December, the federal government reported that 12 persons were hospitalized because of infections from treatment by a California clinic. Some of the material involved was contaminated with fecal bacteria.

The New York Times reported this week that across the nation the clinics have "attracted huge numbers of patients, who pay thousands of dollars for unproven, risky procedures." The Times piece echoed a bleak national picture that was painted earlier by the Washington Post. 

A spokesman for the California Medical Board, Carlos Villatoro, said this week that a task force of the board is expected to hold its first meeting this summer to deal with stem cell clinics. "The task force should be meeting soon and potentially holding an interested parties meeting, hopefully before the next board meeting," he said in an email to the California Stem Cell Report.

The next board meeting comes in August. The task force consists of two members of the state board:
Randy Hawkins, LA Sentinel photo
Hawkins of Los Angeles, who is clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, and Howard Krauss of Santa Monica, Ca., who is a clinical professor of ophthalmology and
Howard Krauss, PNI photo
neurosurgery at
 the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. 

State legislation to deal with the burgeoning problem is moribund and may or may not be resurrected.

Art Torres, vice chairman of the board of the California stem cell agency, has been working on the measure (AB617). He served for 22 years in the state legislature and is a former head of the California Democratic Party. 

Last month, Torres described the stem cell clinic measure as "dead." He said the reasons for its demise are "unclear," along with the failure of another bill dealing with sickle cell disease. Torres told the board, 

"They haven't told us why they opposed it, and even the author of the bills can't figure out why their bills remained in what's called the suspense file of the Assembly Appropriations Committee."

Torres later told the California Stem Cell Report that it was possible that the content of the bill could be amended into another measure that is farther along in the legislative process. But he said that no clear pathway to final passage was evident. 

In New York, the state attorney general has charged one stem cell clinic with fraud. In California, Attorney General Xavier Becerra has remained mum on the subject. 
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Captain Kirk, Snake Oil and Stem Cell Treatments

It's time for stem cell whack-a-mole.

That's the game where regulators -- coming in late -- try to prevent snake-oil clinics from harming desperate patients with purported stem cell treatments and ripping off them for thousands of dollars.  

More than 1,000 dubious clinics are estimated to exist across the country with the largest number in California, which is lagging in its regulatory efforts.  More spring up every day with even Captain Kirk of Star Trek weighing in on the alleged benefits of the unregulated procedures.

William Wan of the Washington Post captured the national scene in an article late on Friday. He said don't get too excited about a favorable court decision involving one operation in Florida, which claims to turn body fat into beneficial stem cells.

Wan wrote,
"(T)he company said it would follow the federal judge’s ruling and stop selling the fat-based procedure. But it quickly followed up with a clarification: It would continue offering stem cell treatments, but instead of fat, rely on patients’ bone marrow and other tissues to harvest the cells it claims can cure conditions as varied as spinal cord injuries and erectile dysfunction.
"'It’s a bit like playing whack-a-mole,' said Peter Marks, FDA’s top official for biologic products."
The situation has been building for long time. Wan wrote,
“After years of largely ignoring the issue, the FDA is finally making more of an effort, but it’s not as if this marketplace is melting away,” said Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota. 
"Because no one had documented exactly how many stem cell clinics existed, Turner — working with collaborators (UC Davis researcher Paul Knoepfler) — began tracking them in a database several years ago. In 2009, there appeared to be only two in the United States; by 2017, there were at least 700. Turner believes there are currently more than 1,000."
"Turner compared the for-profit stem cell industry to a balloon. As the FDA and consumer advocates squeeze one end, other parts of the enterprise expand. 'For every one that’s disappeared, we’re finding seven more that are popping up.'"
Wan noted another effort in California that could affect a number of clinics. 
"Meanwhile, the government is pushing forward in a second federal court lawsuit against another stem cell business in California. That lawsuit has the potential to halt the fat-based stem cell treatment in multiple clinics because the government filed it against a company called Cell Surgical Network, which serves as an umbrella for dozens of affiliated clinics around the country."
An attempt to step up state regulation in California, however, has ground to a halt. Legislation (AB617) by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, is now not even on life support. It is buried in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Its content could surface in another measure that still has some technical life in the Capitol, but the outlook is more than dim. 

The scene is not much brighter with California's medical board. Last year said it would look into the dubious clinics. In April, it said hearings might begin no later than early this month. Nonetheless, a check of the agency's web site this weekend did not turn up any notice of such a meeting.
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Thursday, June 06, 2019

Trump Research Restrictions, the California Stem Cell Agency and Moral Obligations

The man expected to lead the drive for $5.5 billion more for California's stem cell agency today said the Trump restrictions on fetal tissue research represent a dangerous precedent that threatens the health of all Americans. 

Robert Klein, who was the first chairman of the state stem cell agency, said that "California has unique opportunity and obligation to maintain the scientific and medical options" that have led to development of the polio vaccine along with many others.

During an interview with the California Stem Cell ReportKlein said the people of California have a "moral" obligation to add more billions to the work of the 14-year-old, $3 billion stem cell agency.

Klein led the 2004 ballot initiative campaign that created the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of this year. It is staking its existence on a proposed ballot initiative that Klein would carry forward.

Klein's comments came as more reaction surfaced to the Trump action. San Francisco HIV advocate Jeff Sheehy, responding to a question, said in an email,
"Fetal tissue is used to make mice with human immune systems.  Testing new drugs for HIV is just one use--this animal model is used in research across a wide range of diseases to develop and test therapies, including vaccines for infectious diseases.  Stopping this research--which has been taking place for decades--is foolish, anti-science, and a threat to the health and safety of all Americans."
Kaiser Health News reported,
"The Trump administration’s announcement Wednesday about federal cutbacks in fetal tissue research is short of a total ban, but scientists in the field say it is concerning because it could affect work on treatments or preventions for key diseases, such as HIV and Parkinson’s."
Sara Reardon, reporting online for Nature, wrote,

"'It’s a decision that’s going to set back research,' says Andrew McMahon, a stem cell biologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

"McMahon is studying ways to grow kidneys from human stem cells. He says that the only way to determine whether he and his colleagues have successfully mimicked natural development is to compare their proto-organs to kidneys in fetal tissue. Although biomedical research is often done using mice as proxies for people, mouse kidneys are too different from human kidneys to use in McMahon’s work."

McMahon was the recipient of a $5.7 million CIRM award dealing with kidney problems. A CIRM document filed in connection with his now concluded research said,

"Our analysis of the developing human kidney has provided the first comprehensive insight into developmental processes highlighting molecular and cellular events shared with the well-studied mouse model, but unique human features."
McMahon was recruited from Harvard to USC with the help of the CIRM grant. In response to an email query, he said that it was unclear whether his CIRM research would have become ineligible for federal support, given new Trump review processes. 
Bradley Fikes and Gary Robbins of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote
"The sensitivity of the (fetal tissue research) matter surfaced recently when UCSD drew unwanted attention after one of its employees mistakenly solicited fetal pancreas samples from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-abortion group whose surreptitious videos in 2015 galvanized efforts to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood."
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