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...."
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