Stem Cell Quackery
Stem Cell Quackery
In keeping with the trend this week of reporting on dubious results from stem cell treatments, I am blogging a little on this in general. A great site that anyone who is interested in finding out more about this is a page on Quackwatch by Dr. Stephen Barrett called “The Shady Side of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy.” I want to high-light here that this is not a justification to stop embryonic stem cell research; it is a warning for people to beware being taken advantage of by scammers who prey on desperation and last hopes.
(To be fair, a person taking issue with what Barrett said about one company posted this quotation from the New Scientist on his site: ““Finally, some readers have taken us to task for our recent endorsement of the Quackwatch website (24 April). We should, we now realize, have made it clearer that while this site does an excellent job of debunking many phony and fraudulent therapy claims, it does so from a position of medical conservatism that dismisses all forms of therapy that fall outside the orthodox mainstream. This may delight some readers, but others find it unacceptably narrow. Be warned.” I tried to find the original information on the New Scientist site, but it is limited to subscribers. I do find the New Scientist to be a good publication from what I have seen. I am personally open to some alternative medicines, having had great experience with acupuncture, but I think well-designed and carefully supervised clinical trials are crucial to successful treatment with invasive procedures. The person who put this post up also has a link to one of the sites questioned by Quackwatch and does not disclose his own background or interest in defending the site.)
A reader has voiced some doubts to me about Medra, Inc, which is one of the companies discussed on the Quackwatch page. Barrett writes about Medra,
The chief American commercializer of embryonic stem cell therapy is William C. Rader, M.D., a psychiatrist in Malibu, California, who used to run Rader Institute clinics that specialized in treating eating disorders. For $25,000 (wired in advance), Rader will arrange for treatment at his Dominican Republic clinic. In the past, he has also done business under the names Mediquest Ltd., Czech Foundation, and Dulcinea Institute, Ltd. A message posted to the Yahoo StemCells group indicates that before he opened his own clinic (in 1997 in the Bahamas), Rader escorted patients to the Ukraine clinic.
(See Blog Post Ukrainian Stem Cell Treatment, 11/17/05, for more on the above-mentioned clinic, EmCell.)
So what does a psychiatrist know about biology? (Heck, I have a Ph.D., I could start a clinic and say it was run by Dr. Leonard.) A Los Angeles Times article “Outside the US, Businesses Run With Unproved Stem Cell Therapies,” posted on Stem Cell Research and reprinted on an ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) site says about Rader,
"I think there is a higher power," Rader said. "I feel that I am just simply a conduit."In my opinion and experience, people who believe in their research will publish it in spite of what others might think. The article is important reading regarding other clinics, too, including EmCell and one in China.
Rader, 66, said he has not published anything about his therapy because that would open him to attack from a "conspiracy" of scientists, government authorities, pharmaceutical companies and abortion opponents.
A 2004 article in The Times (UK) by John Cornwell, which is long but important reading on this issue, says about Medra:
When I tracked down Dr William Rader, the medical director of Medra Inc, one of several stem-cell treatment centres, based in the Dominican Republic but run from an office in Malibu, he refused to tell me about the source or nature of the stem cells that the clinic used or the whereabouts and status of his Dominican clinic. He explained lamely: "It is becoming very difficult, legally, to give out any information about the use of stem cells in the United States."
Rader claims that his treatments relieve diseases such as "Alzheimer's, anaemia, autism, brain damage, cancer, cerebral palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome" and so forth, through to "systemic lupus erythematosus and hair loss". Neither Rader nor his "chief scientific investigator", Professor Albert Scheller, MD PhD, has any citations in the Medline list of publications appropriate for any of these diseases.
Cornwell's article should be read carefully by anyone considering stem cell therapy at a private clinic.
The Stem Cell Research Foundation site has this question and answer about Medra:
My son survived a near-drowning incident when he was 2 years old. He is now 5. He is severely brain damaged and also has cerebral palsy. I read about human embryonic stem cell (hESC) therapy being performed in the Dominican Republic by Medra INC. What are your comments about this? - YS
I would offer a serious note of caution about any company or organization that suggests that it has a human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-based therapy available at present. There are many of us in the field actively working towards being able to use hESC’s as platforms to derive cells for medical use. We are not there yet, and I would be vastly surprised if anyone else was either. I find the suggestion that anyone would offer such a therapy today to be most troubling. A short web search on the company you mention reveals some comments that I find very disturbing. It is unfortunate that there are individuals in our world that seek to take advantage of good people in need by offering them empty hopes and promises, especially for financial gain. Please, be careful and take care.
The Sacramento Bee apparently did a feature on stem cell clinics last January 9, but I was unable to find the article on the Bee's website, and the site that mentioned it did not have a link.
The only other information I found on my Google search for Medra was the company listing in directories, web pages where its ad was placed, and its own site. Bottom line: from what I have seen in the last few months while doing this blog, stem cell therapy, whether embryonic or adult, has promise for heart conditions and blood disease, but neurological and tissue treatment still has a lot of work to go. Researchers are still working on how to get stem cells to differentiate successfully, how to ensure that they migrate to the appropriate place, how to be sure they will not mutate or become malignant, and how to avoid immune system reactions. Most of this is still at the culture or laboratory animal stage and has not yet progressed to clinical safety trials, let alone large studies. If you are thinking about a new stem cell therapy, I suggest trying to find a trial you can participate in. See http://www.clinicaltrial.gov/ for the NIH list of active trials.
Got another company you want me to check out? Science, or science fiction? Let me know and I'll see what's been researched on it already. I don't have the resources to do major independent research, but I can poke around to see what's been done.