Taking Apart Stem Cell Miracle Cure Websites: Stretching the Truth Edition

POSTED ON 8/25/2018 IN Research BY Chris Centeno

As you know, I write about what I see every day. One of the more disturbing trends is the explosion of newbie stem cell clinics advertising stuff that is demonstrably untrue. My first edition in this series focused on a prototypical chiro clinic, and this one will focus on a physician-owned and operated clinic. On this clinic's website, the biggest issue is that the truth is stretched so far that it no longer resembles reality. My goal here is to teach you and your loved ones to separate stem cell hyperbole from reality.

Stretching the Truth

Sometimes the hardest hyperbole to catch is when it's couched in reason. This morning's website, at first glance, seems to make reasonable claims (and indeed there is some truth here), but digging deeper, we'll see that, unfortunately, not all of these claims are what they seem. My video above walks you through a web page titled “The Difference” on the clinic's actual website, so be sure to watch the video. One thing to note on this website, before I review its content, is that about 80% of all the information is on one page. So right away there's a red-flag warning that the depth and breadth of knowledge here is likely to be extremely limited. If a clinic is performing orthopedic stem cell treatments, its website should contain extensive treatment details and many pages of content updated regularly that can be used as a reference for any question a patient might have. Now, let's break down the website's claims one by one.

Amniotic or Placental Stem Cells

This web page discourages readers from amniotic and placental stem cell scams, warning that there are no live cells in these products. This is true, and, in fact, the statement refers its readers to a study on amniotic products that I was involved with through the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation.

Stem Cell Harvesting

Where things begin to come off the rails is when describing the simple stuff. This clinic harvests bone marrow as its stem cell source, using the Arrow OnControl system, which is the same system we use from time to time. So far so good, but from here, however, the truth starts to stretch. They claim the device allows “a larger amount of cells to be harvested,” which is completely untrue. The Arrow system doesn't make that claim, and there is no research that shows that it can produce a larger amount of stem cells from bone marrow. The only way to accomplish this is to draw bone marrow aspirate from as many sites as possible, but this has nothing to do with the Arrow system. If you want a thorough explanation on a proper stem cell harvesting technique, watch my video below:

Board-Certified Doctors and Science Expertise

Board-certified doctors! That's a great thing, right? Digging deeper, unfortunately, in this clinic's case, the only MD involved is actually not an orthopedic physician or boarded in anything related to the musculoskeletal system, and since the treatments the clinic provides are for orthopedic conditions, the “board-certified doctors” claim is certainly manipulating the truth a bit. Meaning, if I go to a clinic to get my knee treated, I will expect that the doctor running the place is an expert in the nonsurgical treatment of knees. What about science expertise? That sounds pretty good, but, again, we're dealing with orthopedic conditions, and the science expertise claimed here is an employee who is a “PhD Neuroscientist.” While it may be true that this person has “science expertise,” what would a PhD neuroscientist have to do with orthopedic stem cell treatments? Not much. Again, the truth is being stretched here.

Targeted Administration Methods

This one is simply too vague; it tells us that they use targeted treatments as the heading states, but it doesn't tell us what these are. If the clinic is using ultrasound and fluoroscopy guidance to properly target stem cell placement, they would tell the readers, not leave us to guess. I also couldn't find any reference to what these “targeted administration methods” are anywhere on the website at all. So it's difficult to understand what's happening here.

Evidence-Based Treatment

One of the biggest ruses for almost all stem cell clinic websites is evidence that the treatment they use is effective. Many will quote studies on their website, but when you read the study and then read about the methods they use, the study was about oranges and they offer apples. Meaning, it's a classic bait and switch. This website is no different. There are three listed research papers. Interestingly, one is actually a degenerative disc disease paper where they injected intradiscal (into the disc) using fluoroscopy. There's no indication on this clinic's website that they have the ability to perform this procedure as it requires specialized skill, so why is this study here? Do they inject intradiscal? Do they use bone marrow concentrate, which is what was used in this study? I can't tell you that from what is there. The second study is actually our clinical study on the efficacy and safety of bone marrow concentrate for hip osteoarthritis, so I am quite familiar with this one, and I can tell you that the procedures used by this clinic don't match ours in any way. We used a specific protocol of injections and a specific stem cell isolation technique, both of which are proprietary. In other words, our research doesn't apply to what they're doing. The third study appears to be referring to our large knee study, but their link is bad—it actually goes to the disc paper. Given that we have the only large knee study published to date that uses bone marrow, I will have to assume they meant to link to our research. But just like with our hip study, they do not use our approach, so including our knee research to support their practice is not appropriate here.

Clinical Studies Registered Through the National Institutes of Health

The website claims that they have studies that are listed on the NIH website. Unfortunately, I found zero clinical studies registered through the National Institutes of Health having anything to do with this particular company. Ongoing clinical research should be a driving force behind any clinic providing orthopedic stem cell treatment.

Affiliations and Accreditations

The clinic's website also displays the clinic's affiliations and accreditations, but many of these aren't accreditations at all, but memberships. Some of these are societies that oppose the use of stem cells for any clinic use other than the few FDA-approved indications for cellular drugs. These follow:

  • The ISSCR (International Society for Stem Cell Research): This is an anti-clinic stem cell organization of bench scientists. This group has put out countless press releases and held many events that have attacked clinics offering stem cell therapies. So while someone at the clinic may be paying membership dues, the ISSCR would likely be interested to know that its logo is being used to promote a clinic that it would oppose.
  • This American Society for Cell Biology: This is just an organization of cell biologists—there is no stem cell clinic accreditation.
  • AAAHC (Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care): This is likely the accreditation for the plastic surgeon's surgery center, which doesn't have much to do with orthopedic stem cell treatments.
  • The Society for Neuroscience: This is probably the association that the clinic's PhD is a member of, but it doesn't have anything to do with orthopedic stem cell treatments.

The upshot? We've all heard of buffing up your resume. Basically, throwing in stuff that seems impressive to the casual observer, but anyone digging more deeply would know it's fluff. That's basically what's happening not only with this clinic but with many that are out there with flashy websites. An educated consumer doing research on what's behind the bling can now go deeper! Be careful out there, boys and girls!      

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