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: 

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