Doctors question stem cell sales pitches hip bone surgery

The clinics promise to inject stem cells from amniotic fluids donated by new mothers. The clinics say when those stem cells are injected into knees, hips and other pain-plagued areas, they can regenerate cartilage and resolve pain without a costly and risky surgery.

A group of local orthopedic surgeons and doctors told Contact7 Investigates the stem cell publicity blitz is bringing more and more patients into their operating rooms who have already spent thousands of dollars on injections that did not resolve their pain.

We’re talking about huge amounts of money being paid for something where the enthusiasm is ahead of the science right now, said Dr. Ian Weber, an orthopedic surgeon. I think when I see patients who get misinformation, you’re selling them a dream. And these seminars are very good at it, these radio ads are very good at it, but you’ve got to know the facts.

Contact7 Investigates attended two seminars put on by clinics affiliated with the Stem Cell Institute of America (SCIA). It describes itself not as a research facility but as a consulting company that provides its nationwide network of doctors with marketing materials that are frequently updated to comply with FDA guidelines.

Has a doctor ever told you, ‘You’ll just have to live with it? That it’s your age? That it’s the weather?’ I’ve had a lot of people tell me doctors have told them there’s absolutely nothing they could do, one presenter told the audience. Why do doctors tell you these things? It’s because they don’t know what else to do for you.

Presenters also discussed offering treatments for a host of other disorders. One presenter discussed successful treatments for patients suffering from COPD, asthma and multiple sclerosis. The other mentioned stem cell treatments for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. Each presenter also spoke of a 97-year-old patient who had success from a stem cell treatment in her hip.

Umbilical cord stem cells are going to double every 24 hours. So, when you have one stem cell, 24 hours later, you have two. 24 hours later, you have four. Then eight, and so on and so forth. If you do the math with a calculator, in 30 days, one stem cell becomes a billion stem cells. So, their ability to self-replicate is much higher than the other kinds, one presenter told the crowd.

Until we know definitively, we do not recommend that our clinic directors state that amniotic injectables contain live stem cells or that they don’t, but that amniotic has a particular quality of cells and growth factors which create healing activity, SCIA said in a statement to Denver7 in October.

Pharmaceutical companies are actually in the process right now of trying to patent stem cells. Do you know what happens if they go through with that? Each and every one of us will be owned by pharmaceutical companies because we all own stem cells, they’re all inside of our bodies, which means Big Pharma has the right to take your stem cells whenever they want to, a presenter told the audience. They want as much money as possible. They want to be the only ones that are able to sell anything related to health care.

There’s not a guarantee, but they do such a thorough job of screening people prior to recommending it to them that that’s how we have a 96-percent success rate. We really don’t have anybody that it hasn’t worked for. … Really, there’s not anyone that’s unhappy with their results, she said.

These are very scary claims and I just can’t believe what I saw, Dr. Weber said after leaving the presentation. This is an absolute shakedown in which you’re taking advantage of people’s high hopes of something that may have potential in the future based on basic science research, but it hasn’t been clinically-proven in any of these situations and taking these people for $6,000 a pop.

My fear is we take care of the right knee, take care of the one that’s having the most problems, and then you start having the problem with the other one because we’re already degenerated, the employee told the producer. That’s what stem cells are good at doing, getting in there, rebuilding that cartilage so that we’re not having this pain, not having that overall stress.

West2North’s website includes videos of patients saying the treatments helped their pain. The orthopedic doctors who brought their concerns to Denver7 said it’s possible the injections can offer some measure of pain relief so their practices also offer stem cell injections – but they don’t promise it could repair arthritic joints.

[We] will be the first to tell a patient, ‘We’re not saying this is going to regrow your cartilage, there is some proof that helps decrease your pain and improve your function, but that’s about it,’ Dr. Foran said. You get an injection and you end up feeling better. Now why are you feeling better? Are you feeling better because you’re growing cartilage? There’s almost no science behind that. Are you feeling better because it has some anti-inflammatory effect? Probably. Are you feeling better because it has a large placebo effect? Probably.

The attorney general’s filing mentions multiple sales presentations at hotel meeting room venues or other locations for the purposes of advertising and soliciting the sales of stem cell injections and says the state believes claims made in those presentations are untrue, misleading or unsubstantiated.

To prevent a very lengthy and expensive battle in court to defend our position and since we now have alternative stem cell therapy that is not subject to FDA regulation, we have agreed to refrain from using those products, Jones wrote in an email.