Some see stem cell therapy as the future of medicine, but not all of the treatments have been proven to work. Yet the treatments cost patients tens of thousands of dollars.
NBC 7 Investigates has been looking into stem cell clinics and treatments offered across San Diego County for nearly a year. On Friday, NBC’s Today show featured NBC 7’s work in a report on stem cell treatments.
The Food and Drug Administration confirmed to NBC News that 12 patients became seriously ill after getting injections that supposedly contained stem cells that were contaminated. That’s why some are warning about the rise in unregulated stem cell clinics and procedures popping across the country.
“The pitch was basically that stem cells could cure anything,” said stem cell therapy patient Tonya Woodward, speaking with Today’s Gabe Gutierrez.
Stem cell therapies have been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and lung problems. The treatments are marketed as being able to cure or help with ailments, discomfort, and disease but there is no proof that they work or are safe. Very few treatments are FDA approved.
“There are now a large number of free-standing clinics that are offering stem cell therapies and these are therapies that have not been fully investigated,” said Jeffrey Cohen, M.D. with the Cleveland Clinic. “They have not yet been shown to work and they are therapies for which we don't yet know if they are safe.”
Tonya and Allen Woodward spent $30,000 on stem cell therapy to treat Tonya’s skeletal deformities, including scoliosis and Allen’s spine and neck pains. The therapy produced no results.
Allen said he even urged his elderly father to give stem cell therapy a try but after the treatment, his father became even sicker.
“It broke my heart,” Allen said. “Especially because I'm the one that introduced him to it.”
NBC 7 Investigates first went undercover in May at a seminar put on by a clinic in Carlsbad where a Chiropractor pitched stem cell treatment to potential patients.
During the seminar, the Chiropractor did not tell the audience that the treatments offered were not F.D.A. approved.
In December, the F.D.A. wrote to 20 clinics that offer unapproved stem cell treatments, encouraging the clinics to contact federal regulators by November 2020, when enforcement will tighten. The F.D.A. has not released the names of those clinics.
The claims made by this clinic and others got the attention of the California Medical Board, which led to the creation of a task force last year to review the practices of clinics offering stem cell treatments.