Gordie Howe family reportedly invested in stem cell business they touted for treating their father

Gordie HoweIt has been one of the most hyped stem cell stories in history.

Hockey legend Gordie Howe had a devastating stroke last fall and supposedly a stem cell treatment in Mexico from for-profit stem cell businesses, Stemedica and Novastem, caused a remarkable recovery in Howe.

What really happened?

Today a new article on a fresh investigation into this story sheds some important additional light on it including the bombshell that Howe’s family has invested in Stemedica.

For background, the Howe treatment was given via stem cell company Stemedica and its partner in Mexico, Novastem. Reportedly, Anesthesiologist Cesar Amescua did the actual stem cell transplant into Howe.

Back immediately after the treatment in Mexico, Howe’s family raved about it. The effects were described by them and others as miraculous.

Sports commentator Keith Olbermann went ‘weak in the knees’ at how amazing it all seemed in a gushing interview with Stemedica leader, Maynard Howe (no relation to Gordie) on the air.

I was happy to see Gordie doing well, but skeptical for a variety of reasons that stem cells were the reason. If anything, David Gorski was even more skeptical.

Why?

First, the timing of the recovery seemed way too fast for a stem cell treatment. Howe reportedly had gotten better almost immediately after getting the cells, which would normally be expected to take quite some time to work — days or weeks instead of a few hours.

In addition, Howe’s recovery could have been a result of any number of things including simply placebo effect or a natural recovery from the stroke. Many were claiming out right that the stem cells worked magic.Duncan Stewart

Further, Howe received the treatment for free, while it would normally cost $30,000, and the Howe family was not shy about telling the world how great it all seemed to be and how wonderful Stemedica was. It’s understandable I suppose that they were enthusiastic about a company that they believed had helped their dad.

Stemedica and Novastem received the equivalent of an all out PR blitz in the media. Additional business seemed to head their way.

CTV News/W5 has now investigated and reported on what they found both on TV and online.

I encourage you to watch the videos as they are very striking.

Dr. Duncan Stewart, the scientific director of regenerative medicine at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a stem cell researcher (pictured above from video screenshot), agreed to visit Stemedica and Novastem as part of the CTV investigation. By way of disclosure, I was separately invited to visit as well, but declined because I felt concerned about how this story had unfolded.

Stewart viewed the situation as a good news/bad news kind of thing as described on the Ottawa Hospital website:

“The good news is that the stem cells that Mr. Howe received were produced in a facility in the U.S. that complies with appropriate regulations, so we know that these were high-quality stem cells,” said Dr. Stewart. “I was also encouraged to see that the licensing agreement between the stem cell production facility in the U.S. and the clinic in Mexico requires that the stem cells be administered through clinical trials.”

“The bad news is that the clinic in Mexico is not in a position to perform clinical trials that meet Canadian and U.S. regulatory standards,” added Dr. Stewart. “This means that it is not clear whether meaningful results will be collected and whether patient safety will be adequately protected. It is also important to remember that this is not a research facility – it is a for-profit business.”

Howe’s recovery itself seems indisputable and is great news, but what caused it?

Nobody can be sure.

Dr. Steven Cramer, a neurologist at University of California Irvine, examined Howe and suggested possible non-stem cell treatment-related reasons as to why Howe might have bounced back:

“Cramer says physical and occupational therapy could have played a role or there may have been a spontaneous improvement, which happens sometimes during the first three to six months. But Gordie’s recovery may be due to the so-called “piss-and-vinegar gene” — a fighting spirit or drive that Gordie has in abundance, Cramer said.”

Another notable thing mentioned in the coverage of this investigation was this shocker:

“Following Gordie’s amazing recovery they have invested in Stemedica, and Murray Howe is hoping to begin studies of stem-cell treatment for brain injuries at his hospital in Ohio.”

Gordie’s children have invested in Stemedica?  This investment is also mentioned in the CTV online piece, but only near the end and without any details.

This purported investment, if confirmed, means that Gordie Howe’s family have a vested interest in the success of the company that treated their father. This connection raises some serious concerns.

See here for Leigh Turner’s insightful perspective on the Howe family investment in Stemedica including five key questions that he believes the family should address:
  • Who in the Howe family invested in Stemedica?
  • What is the size of this investment?
  • Where was this investment first discussed?
  • When did members of the Howe family make this investment?
  • Why did they decide to invest in Stemedica, why have reporters not described their investment until this weekend, and have any Howe family members done media interviews without first disclosing this investment?
In the end we may never know the answers to these questions or the reason that Gordie bounced back so well, but this story illustrates the complexity of the stem cell for-profit clinic world and the difficulty in separating fact from speculation or promotion.

9 thoughts on “Gordie Howe family reportedly invested in stem cell business they touted for treating their father


  1. “In addition, Howe’s recovery could have been a result of any number of things including simply placebo effect or a natural recovery from the stroke.” So you’re saying that in a matter of hours it could have been a natural recovery from the stroke or the placebo effect?

    I’m happy to see those with wealth invest. The investigative reporting said “Following” his treatment. Does Turner have evidence to the contrary or why is Turner suggesting that a good question for the family would be when did they decide to invest? Does it matter if it was the day after treatment or a month or more? The word following indicates after, not before. It certainly doesn’t raise concerns for me. Instead, I feel that their investment means they have high regard for the doctors and the company involved that treated Gordie. I don’t see that they have an obligation to discuss their post treatment investment with anyone.

    I do hope Murray Howe can get the studies going in Ohio as well. Instead of quibbling about who, what, when and how much, I’d like to see the research community encourage the Howe’s to begin those studies here in the U.S.
    Great, caring family in my opinion. Should we all be so lucky!


  2. My difficulty is, and remains, that Stemedica only reported the good outcome without any statistics as to how their other patients responded or failed to respond. My question to all Stemedica Investors is:
    Have you seen the data?

    Dr Stewart questions whether meaningful results can be obtained, based upon the Mexican outfit not complying with US/Canada regulations. I get nervous when we entrust what is “scientifically meaningful” to Government Regulation. I’d be more convinced if Dr Stewart had explained that the study was deficient because measurements X are necessary but they are not made or are made wrongly.

    Dr Stewart writes:
    “It is also important to remember that this is not a research facility – it is a for-profit business.”
    I don’t agree with the implication/conflation. Many profit business have done high quality scientific research. Dr Stewart should amend his web-post.


  3. @Dear Professor Knopfler,
    I remember Stemedica wanted to answer your additional questions some time ago, but I never read a post about this?
    Have they already answered?
    I agree with Brian Sanderson, I would like to read more data.

    Maybe this treatment could be the first step of a big breakthrough, but I think we need more information about this… I have an aunt, who needs such a medical sucess, but before I send her to this therapy, I would like to get more information…


  4. I have to admit that I don’t think the family’s investment in the company is very significant one way or the other. But the other questions about the treatment still remain and haven’t really been answered.


  5. There are more companies other than Stemedica that have had promising trials with neural stem cells for stroke. Many of them aren’t blogged about here or widely known and most of them are not for profit companies based out of small Mexican clinics.

    For example ReNeuron just posted promising clinical trials in phase 1 for stroke.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/17/us-health-stemcells-reneuron-group-idUSKBN0N81CC20150417

    Which also adds on to some of their research papers that say the same things.

    Really is it not possible that the sheer amount of different companies doing this type of investing/research will not make a breakthrough quickly? There are 40 different companies that I know of off the top of my head doing this research and personally I don’t find it impossible to both hope and expect that one of them makes a sudden break through or even mildly effective treatment quite quickly.


  6. One thing EVERYONE is missing here: how on earth did Gordie Howe receive “brain cells” (from a 12-weeks old fetus) and “bone marrow cells” (from a 21-year-old adult”) – without genetic matching or immune suppressive drugs?? There is no indication that Stemedica made any sort of genetic matching whatsoever – or any immune suppressive drugs to avoid a rejection or graft-vs-host. I find it fascinating that everyone is worried about whether or not this is a fluke – when a glaring obvious question is, “how is this possible”? Does this mean that bone marrow registries and finding matches for bone marrow transplants are no longer needed?


  7. One thing EVERYONE is missing here: how on earth did Gordie Howe receive “brain cells” (from a 12-weeks old fetus) and “bone marrow cells” (from a 21-year-old adult” – without genetic matching or immune suppressive drugs?? There is no indication that Stemedica made any sort of genetic matching whatsoever – or any immune suppressive drugs to avoid a rejection or graft-vs-host.


  8. I am now in a fight with the rest of my family because they want my mother to get this treatment done through Stem Cell of America also based in San Diego/Tijuana.

    My mother who is 80 had a stroke last November. She was weakened on the right side and suffers from aphasia. While she has regained her ability to walk she is still weak and has not regained her ability to speak, Because of this he husband wants to take her to get this treatment.

    I spoke to the clinic and for $24k they will treat my mother. I asked if they need to see her medical records – they said no. I asked where do the stem cells come from – aborted fetuses. I asked if there is a risk – they said no and 92% of patients have some positive reaction anywhere from a week to 3 months.

    Their website does not list any doctors or processes. They claim to help with multiple ailments from ALS to MS tp Stroke to Downs Syndrome.

    Further Web searching shows the Doctor who founded this clinic has a similar set up in Domican Republic before it was closed down. He also had a chain of weight loss clinics. The Doctor lost his license to practice medicine in 2014.

    Despite this overwhelming evidence you would think my family would listen to reason. But because desperation and hope are powerful emotions, even though they probably intellectually know that there is almost no chance, they figure there is nothing to lose.

    Meanwhile I am the bad guy because I don’t want them injecting some untested crap into my Mother.

    There should be a special place in hell for these clinics who prey on the sick and desperate.

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