Thursday, May 28, 2020

Rogue Stem Cell Clinics and Covid: California Moves 'Sedately' on Regulation

The state of California and its top medical regulator remain mired in a go-slow posture on regulation of "snake oil" stem cell clinics that are currently riding the Covid crisis to peddle dubious treatments to desperate patients.

The marketing surge by the clinics has drawn increased attention nationally, including in prestigious scientific journals such as Cell Stem Cell whose usual fare deals with such things as "Stem Cell Hierarchy in Colorectal Cancer."

But one article published earlier this month was titled:
The quotes around "stem cell treatments" are deliberate. No guarantee exists that the treatments actually include stem cells. 

Leigh Turner, an associate professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota, authored the piece. He said,
"In the midst of a global public health emergency, some businesses are taking advantage of widespread fears by marketing purported stem cell treatments for Covid-19. 
"Such businesses target prospective clients with misleading claims, expose patients to potentially risky stem cell-based products, and undermine efforts to develop evidence-based treatments for Covid-19."
Nearly two years ago, California's State Medical Board said it was going to tackle the problem of the rogue clinics. But to this date little has occurred. State legislation to develop regulations was also sidelined.

The California Stem Cell Report queried the medical board earlier this month concerning the status of its effort and whether regulations had been drafted and when a draft would be ready. In response, the board last week released the following statement:
"The board is continuing to work toward the goal of providing recommendations on stem cell and regenerative therapies and developing some guidelines that California physicians and patients can follow that will include a sample informed consent document and educational materials for the public to present to the board for review and final approval. 

"In the meantime, pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 684, healthcare practitioners providing stem cell therapy not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and who have not obtained approval or clearance for an investigational new drug or device exemption from the FDA for the use of human cells, tissues, or cellular or tissue-based products, must provide notice to their patients indicating the lack of FDA approval, and encouraging their patients to consult with their primary care physician before treatment. Individuals concerned about a physician’s stem cell practice should file a complaint with the Board for review and appropriate action."
The issues with the clinics has drawn attention in the Los Angeles Times from Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Michael Hiltzik  who wrote recently,
"The proliferation of stem cell clinics selling untested and unlicensed therapies has been a public health crisis for years. The Covid-19 pandemic will only deepen the crisis as clinics add the coronavirus to their menu of treatment claims."
The California stem cell agency has also pushed for tighter regulation and partnered to help pass the law for disclosure notices concerning lack of FDA approval. For patients considering stem cell treatments, the agency has posted as rundown on issues concerning the treatments or clinical trials. 

(After this item was posted, the agency posted a blog item dealing with Parkinson's. In addition to information on the search for a cure or treatment, the item carried the following advice for persons seeking some sort of unregulated treatment. Here is what the agency had to say in a Q&A format,

"If you go online you can find lots of stem cells clinics, all over the US, that claim they can use stem cells to help people with Parkinson’s. Should I go to them?

("In a word, no! These clinics offer a wide variety of therapies using different kinds of cells or tissues (including the patient’s own blood or fat cells) but they have one thing in common; none of these therapies have been tested in a clinical trial to show they are even safe, let alone effective. These clinics also charge thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars these therapies, and because it’s not covered by insurance this all comes out of the patient’s pocket.

("These predatory clinics are peddling hope, but are unable to back it up with any proof it will work. They frequently have slick, well-designed websites, and  'testimonials' from satisfied customers. But if they really had a treatment for Parkinson’s they wouldn’t be running clinics out of shopping malls, they’d be operating huge medical centers because the worldwide need for an effective therapy is so great.

("Here’s a link to the page on our website that can help you decide if a clinical trial or “therapy” is right for you.")


  1. Anonymous3:41 PM

    Good piece. Solid reporting. This is a problem that is only going to get worse. Meanwhile, the State Medical Board will continue its waffle dance and put out government blah blah statements like the one it issued to you. Please keep after the board and its waffle members and staff.

  2. Thanks. Here is the latest national look at the problem of rogue businesses that offer these treatments. I think it is important to keep in mind that these enterprises could wind up contaminating the field and whittle into the support for refinancing the California stem cell agency.