I recently got an e-mail from a colleague that explained that he had seen an explosion in local chiropractic clinics offering amniotic “stem cells.” I’ve blogged on this phenomenon in the past. While there’s nothing wrong with a chiropractor learning the ropes of stem cell use and hiring competent physicians to do good work, that’s not what we’re seeing here. What we’re seeing instead is a moneymaking venture from start to finish being hawked by chiropractic management groups that promise to boost the revenues of struggling clinics. This sales pitch starts with a faulty premise—that the amniotic fluid they’re injecting has stem cells—and is exploitative in every way. One such outfit is Stem Cell Institute of America (formerly known as Stem Cell Clinics of America, or SCCA). So this will be a Stem Cell Institute of America review as told firsthand by a knowledgeable physician who attended one of their seminars and then my expert commentary on what was relayed.
When a baby is born, there’s fluid in the birth sac. When this liquid is fresh from a delivery, there is a low concentration of stem cells present. However, once it’s left to sit in a hospital, processed in a tissue bank, irradiated to kill pathogens, frozen for storage, and shock-thawed in a doctor’s office, not much living remains. In fact, our research and that of a third-party nonprofit shows that there are no living cells, let alone stem cells.
This arrived in my e-mail inbox this week unsolicited: “Chris, I had one of those…Chiropractors put on a marketing show for the public in a hotel down the street from my office…My PA and I attended the meeting of 10 unsuspecting older citizens from my town and he introduced himself as doctor ” so and so” from the “Stem Cell Centers of America”. They are injecting a Cryopreserved Amniotic Fluid injection for joints and soft tissues and IV. In his snake oil presentation he describes how BMC and adipose stem cells are multipotent but the “live stem cells” in ?XXXX? are pluripotent, don’t ever die, keep growing once injected in, require no targeting because these cells are much smarter than MSCs from fat and bone marrow and will regrow whatever your joint needs. This will regrow you a new joint. You will be pain free to have a normal active life style once again. Because in the end who has time to be in pain and go from doctor to doctor or risk serious side effects and death from risky medications and surgery?” Oh yea, and they are charging 5K a shot for a non-guided injection of this 2cc vial of fluid! I spoke to him afterwards and he admitted he’s a chiro and part owner of the company SCCA. I explained to him that his statements are not grounded in any science and he said all their clinics are operating as data centers with patient registries and they have over a hundred studies in progress!”
First, there are a few chiropractors out there who I know are trying to do a good job with orthopedic stem cells. Second, Stem Cell Institute of America doesn’t appear to be in that category. Their business plan includes running many national seminars aimed at the elderly. Once they have a patient who’s interested, a physician or nurse practitioner comes to a chiro office to perform an injection. However, to get a sense of why that’s an issue, compare and contrast that to one of our procedure rooms:
None of the things you see here is common in a chiropractic office, nor is such an office a sterile environment. So what risks are generated by performing a stem-cell-injection procedure in an environment where if something goes wrong, the nearest stocked crash cart is across town at the local hospital?
As I’ve blogged in the past, medical sales reps and used-car salesmen have much in common. In my career, I have been told countless things by reps just to make the sale, things that weren’t remotely true. In this case, PBS doesn’t have its own research facilities to check the claims that amniotic stem cell companies make. They don’t know enough about basic cell biology to know that that the chart above includes bogus data. They have no ability to perform independent live-dead stain tests, flow cytometry, or tissue culture to check the manufacturer’s claims. So they’re literally at the mercy of the guys selling the product. As a result, by telling elderly patients that this stuff has loads of stem cells that will grow them a new knee, they’re misleading patients in the worst possible way.
The upshot? There isn’t really any scientific or face validity to what Stem Cell Institute of America is selling. The amniotic fluid they’re selling as a miracle stem cell cure for arthritis that can regrow a new knee joint has no credible data showing it contains viable cells or that it can regrow a new knee. They are also injecting it IV, against the labeling of the product, which is a serious safety concern! Finally, based on our research to date, this $5,000 shot of dead amniotic-fluid cells is likely to be about as or less effective than a $1,000 PRP shot that any of these elderly people could get down the street through their local sports-med clinic. Buyer beware!
About the Author
Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…