Stem cell Snake Oil

The folks at CBS’s 60 Minutes have been up in arms the last couple of years about fraud being perpetrated in the name of stem cells. They are right to do so, of course, but their stridency and their unwillingness to report the many successes of these evolving techniques do a great disservice to the millions of people who can be benefitted by effectively applied stem cell therapies.
There are lessons to be learned from 60 Minutes’ investigations in spite of the sensationalism. They showed us three Americans practicing medicine without licenses – one even took refuge in Ecuador in order to do so. That should be enough of a warning. Check your doctors’ credentials before you let them work on you, first; by seeing how the doctors represent themselves, as we do at ProgenCell, and then by confirming that those credentials have been authenticated with international certification. Another danger signal is that all three of the 60 Minutes doctors promised results they had no control over, which is something no ethical person will do. It’s not the stem cells that are fraudulent, it’s the people who are selling the idea of stem cells without knowing how to use them correctly.

60 Minutes quotes Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University as saying “I personally think we’re ten years away from seeing real cell therapies that are working and are safe, but I do believe it will come.” Yet she is currently using stem cell therapy to treat cerebral palsy in her own clinic. They quote her saying “There are no stem cell cures yet for multiple sclerosis.” Yet there are already several documented stem cell treatments that have arrested and even reversed the progress of MS .
This is not hypocrisy, it’s just 60 Minutes overstating their case. We are about ten years away from seeing stem cell therapies accepted by the insurance companies as the standard of care. Until then, we must rely on honorable, competent physicians to apply these therapies thoughtfully and judiciously – that’s how every new therapy becomes a standard of care.
Snake oil appears to have been introduced to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century by Chinese laborers who used it for sore muscles; it was such a novelty that hucksters began promoting it as a panacea. Confidence tricksters have always made use of novel developments to impress their victims, but that doesn’t mean the novel developments themselves can’t be trusted – just the people who misuse them.

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