The Niche top posts of 2016

stem cell fireworksWhat were the top posts here on The Niche for the past year? I’ve listed some of them below along with some posts from 2015 that remain highly read.

Some top 2016 posts

2015 and older posts that remain highly read every day

The car shopping analogy for evaluating stem cell clinics

Patients contact me all the time these days asking about American stem cell clinics. The most common question boils down to “should I get a treatment at clinic X and what things should I think about in trying to make this decision?” I recommend checking out my stem cell treatment guide for patients.used-car-sales

In addition, you might consider an analogy to car shopping. I’ve found it is very helpful.

Buying a car is a much less serious decision than getting a stem cell therapy, but it is sometimes not taken as seriously from a practical point of view in terms of what goes into the decision making.

If you are going to buy a car ranging in price from say $10,000 (maybe a used Honda) up to $30,000 or even $50,000 or more for a car, you do your homework, right?

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South Africa grapples with “illegal” stem cell experiment scandal

dr-wian-standerSouth Africa is facing a stem cell scandal related to what a health policy news outlet called Spotlight there characterizes as illegal experiments by ReGenesis Biotechnologies, the company at the heart of the controversy. It had a contract with a governmental health provider agency, now apparently suspended.

The report begins this way: “The Medicines Control Council (MCC) this week suspended what appears to be unlawful stem cell experimentation at Pelonomi, a state hospital in Bloemfontein.”

However, there does not appear to be concrete data supporting safety and efficacy of the “treatments” in question. There were additional concerns over informed consent:

“MCC Chairperson Professor Helen Rees confirmed to Spotlight that inspectors had been to the Pelonomi site last Friday and again on Monday.

“Our concern was that the service level agreement made reference to medicines, injections and therapeutic research,” said Rees.

She said the informed consent documents referred to the patients giving permission for stem cell therapy, permission for stem cells to be removed, concentrated and re-injected and for their stem cells to be given to another person.”

The leader of the company was reported as Dr. Wian Stander.

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The stem cell hard sell: my new paper in Stem Cells Translational Medicine

stem cell hard sellI just published a paper in Stem Cells Translational Medicine on my experience traveling to and attending a stem cell clinic patient recruitment seminar.

It was an intense experience and one where I felt at risk. To some extent it is akin to going into the lion’s den. I didn’t know what reaction I would get if I were recognized by those running the seminar, which in fact did happen. They did not seem happy at all that I was there even though I wasn’t disruptive in the least. I had hoped to ask a few questions from my place in the audience, but the format did not allow it. Still I wondered if I could be kicked out. That didn’t happen.

I call these stem cell clinic seminars “infomercial” seminars because they remind me of hard sell pitches on TV.

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Nervana stem cell clinic: big ads in SacBee & big questions continue

The local stem cell clinic here in Sacramento, Nervana Stem Cell Centers, continues to advertise treatments in The Sacramento Bee and there continue to be big questions about this situation. I’ve blogged about Nervana before and you can see the archived posts here.

Nervana stem cell ad

Nervana must be spending big money on advertising because they have run many full-page ads in the Sac Bee in 2016. Those aren’t cheap. You can see the latest ad above in this morning’s paper.

The focus lately seems to be on marketing stem cells to treat neuropathy. One of the questions I have is whether there is evidence that using stem cells to treat neuropathy and other conditions such as arthritis is safe.

Is there any data showing it is effective?

Are consumers getting their money’s worth? These are expensive experimental treatments and stem cell treatment cost is a big issue in this arena today.

Is this OK with the FDA?

The fine print. As to that last question at least one past ad for this group seemed to suggest FDA compliance. However, in the fine print on today’s ad it says amongst other things, “the use of stem cells is not FDA approved for the treatment of the conditions that we treat and their use is investigational.” Some caution there from the clinic.

The word “investigational” there is also an interesting one as it raises the question again about whether the use of stem cells in this way would constitute the use of an “investigational drug” as the FDA would put it. If the answer is “yes”, then clinics should be getting FDA approval in advance.

It also says in an aspirational tone in the fine print, “However, we do believe in the healing power of stem cells and offer them to you in advance of any potential scientific discoveries that may prove their efficacy.”

Biomedical treatments should be, in my opinion, based on more than belief and should not be sold prior to proof.