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. 

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