The stem cell scammers

Image from Wikipedia. Click fo source.Ukraine has become a world centre for untested stem cell treatments where patients can fly in and have embryonic stem cells implanted in their brain to supposedly treat everything from Alzheimer’s disease to autism.

These treatments are entirely unproven and are illegal in most of the world but are available for anyone wanting to pay the price.

Embryonic stem cells are a type of cell that can turn into any type of tissue in the body and can keep on dividing, in principle, endlessly.

They are named ‘embryonic’ because these cells are particularly important, as you can imagine, in the development of the human embryo which needs to grow and differentiate into a rapidly developing complex organism.

A lot of the cutting-edge science is now focussing on ‘reprogrammed stem cells’ – which are adult cells genetically altered to revert to stem cells.

But stem cells used in experimental treatments are often taken from genuine human embryos, usually sourced from IVF fertility treatments.

Here, the egg is fertilised with the sperm in the lab (hence ‘test tube baby’) and the nascent embryo is implanted into the woman’s body after a few days – typically, when it has between 10 and 100 cells and is invisible to the human eye.

However, only the most viable embryos are implanted so there are often some left over. Most mainstream stem cell treatment research uses these as a source of stem cells (although science is increasingly turning to ‘reprogrammed stem cells’ as they’re potentially easier to produce and less controversial).

It’s worth saying that stem cell treatments in themselves are not necessarily bad thing but they are currently at the research stage and so are only usually given as part of scientific programmes to test their safety and usefulness.

The commercial treatments available in the Ukraine are notable for two reasons.

The first is that they typically use stem cells from aborted fetuses “of 5–8 weeks of gestation”.

The second is that they are either entirely untested or have never been confirmed as either safe not effective.

After a brief search it seems there are many commercial companies who offer stem cell therapies that would be illegal in most other countries.

This is quite shocking in itself, but perhaps the most disturbing practice is implanting fetal stem cells into the brains of children with autism.

Brain surgery is dangerous, implanting biological material from other sources even more so, and bear in mind we are talking about treatments that have never been scientifically tested.

This is from the website of one of the biggest Ukrainian stem cell clinics that advertises this ‘service’ and justifies it with lot of scientific bunk:

Fetal stem cells (FSC) that we use in autism treatment positively affect all body organs and systems, and, first of all, this treatment targets the brain. In autism, areas of brain regulating memory, concentration, attention, speech etc. are damaged. Stem cell treatment improves blood and oxygen flow to the brain (improved perfusion), replaces damaged neurons and stimulates formation of the new arteries. After some time, FSC acquire properties of cells surrounding them and multiply into these cells, which results in white and gray matter restoration and, consequently, in subsidence of neurologic symptoms and improved intellectual capacity.

The shady ‘stem cell therapy’ industry is expanding across the world and is increasingly targeting behavioural and psychological disorders.

Companies are advertising ‘treatments’ for, among other things, schizophrenia, depression, addiction and suicidal thinking.

In one particularly worrying testimony video and advert a father apparently describes how ‘stem cell therapy’ treated his son’s “childhood depressive disorder” although the symptoms and outcomes seem to be more about him being a well behaved kid.

Stem cells for neurological conditions are still an experimental treatment. They may yet be one of the greatest medical advances of the 21st century but they don’t work by being added to the brain like some sort of neurological band aid.

Unfortunately, these unproven treatments are already a massive industry and their promise is being hijacked by quacks to exploit the desperate.

8 Comments

  1. G. Sun Day
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    Hopefully these “physicians” are keeping detailed records so that the damage they’re doing isn’t all for naught. If people are going to be doing this with unknown consequences, they should freely share techniques and results among themselves so that patients aren’t needlessly harmed, even more than the inevitable.

  2. tatamysz
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Before rushing to have their brains injected with stem cells, people should read the story about a lady who had pellets of bone growing in her eyelids after a cosmetic stem cell injection and maybe reconsider:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=stem-cell-cosmetics

    As to doing this to children… I have no words.

  3. Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    my thoughts agree with Sun Day and wish they would,at minimum, feel ethically compelled to experiment only on consenting over-21-yr olds.

  4. Tommy K. Hindman
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Until stem cell therapy can be proven effective in psychological disorders or in any medical condition for that matter. People should not rush to inject themselves with these stem cells until the dangers are known and it has been proven to work. Come on people!!!

  5. christopher bagley
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    As with any and all developments in any field, this too needs to be tested. However, their process can not be any worse than our process (the FDA) – it seems lately most every FDA approved drug that comes on the market inevitably becomes the source of class action lawsuits. Besides – is it just me or are we eliminating natural selection? If everyone survives at the going rate the entire planet will be overrun with not enough resources to sustain….Oh wait…we are already there…nevermind.

  6. John Smith
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    First of all you have no idea what they do in the Emcell clinic. Stem cell are not injected in the brain silly but it is a two step process. First day they inject cells in the arm and second day they inject in the tummy. We got autism treatment for our child and anti aging for me.

    After 4 month I have seen changes in my short term memory and mental sharpness and my child while not cured is substantially better.

    • lovenatureme sanju
      Posted May 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Agree…the technique should be understood before writing such negative article. Ofcourse for every scientific discovery there are two groups of thoughts. Nothing new.

  7. James DeLittle
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Dont call me desperate!
    When you’ve Parkinsonsfor as long as I’ve had 9 years you would change your tune .
    And the guy going on about natural selection lets hope non of his family develop something nasty eh!
    Can the person that went to Emcell please get in touch


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