The Push for Stem Cell Censorship Has Begun

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

A new study published in journal Stem Cell Reports, entitled “How to Peddle Hope: An Analysis of YouTube Patient Testimonials of Unproven Stem Cell Treatments,” looks at over a hundred videos by stem cell patients posted on YouTube. 

The study appears to have an underlying anti-democratic agenda – to shame YouTube and other internet platforms into removing positive patient testimonials about stem cell therapy (SCT).  Indeed, the use of the pejorative term “peddle” in the article’s title immediately undermines the study’s credibility.

This research epitomizes how propaganda can masquerade as scientific research, and how data can be twisted to meet its masters’ agenda.

The study comes on the heels of a recent federal judge’s decision that the FDA could regulate stem cells made from adipose tissue – a patient’s own fat cells. Although SCT critics generally praised the ruling as a victory for government oversight, outlets like the Washington Post lamented that it would likely not deter clinics from offering the therapy. 

A New York Times article accused the FDA of not acting until patients were harmed, and using enforcement actions that consist only of warning letters without any real teeth.  


STAT News even criticized the National Institutes of Health for allowing stem cell clinics to “co-opt” the nation’s clinical trial database.

Stem cell critics have apparently realized that the three previous stages of their vilification campaign have failed. These stages were:

  1. Vilify the patients:  Promote the condescending narrative that patients are desperate, ignorant and too stupid to research stem cell therapy for themselves and decide whether it is best for them.

  2. Vilify the clinics: Stem cell clinics are run by shady charlatans who engage in duplicitous business practices that take advantage of desperate, ignorant and pitiful Americans by selling them “unproven” products that couldn’t possibly help them.

  3. Vilify the federal government: Federal agencies have not acted quickly or robustly enough to enforce the regulations that govern regenerative medicine, thus tacitly approving the growing “wild west” of clinics offering SCT.

The Push for YouTube Censorship

Critics now appear to be setting their sights on a fourth vilification stage.  In their desperation, they have decided to take a more authoritarian turn towards internet censorship.

The new study’s authors examined 159 YouTube testimonials from patients who had SCT for ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and spinal cord injury.  Not surprisingly, they found that most of the videos were published by providers and nearly all discussed the benefits of SCT in improving pain, overall health and quality of life. 

The authors concluded the YouTube testimonials “may be a potent marketing tool” and “are likely to have a wider reach and significant impact on influencing health behavior.” 

The article’s final sentence reveals the authors’ true motive: “Adopting multiple approaches, including patient education, enhancing patient treatment options, and regulatory oversight, are required to make a significant dent in reducing the number of clinics providing unproven SCTs.”

Setting aside the numerous, glaring and egregious methodological shortcomings of the study, the more important issue is one of broader public policy.  These authors appear to be implicitly advocating that YouTube and other internet sites censor videos that are “misleading” or “deceptive” or not published by “reputable organizations.” 

And who or what is to determine whether any particular video meets this criteria?  Wired published an article with the ominous headline “YouTube Testimonials Lure Patients to Shady Stem Cell Clinics,” implicitly calling on YouTube to take action. The notion isn’t farfetched. YouTube has been in the news a lot recently for censoring videos, using nebulous criteria and subjective standards.   

Apparently, SCT critics have jumped on the YouTube censorship bandwagon.  It’s a wagon that seems to claim a new victim every day, and its victims are usually those who threaten the status quo.  Unfortunately, it’s a wagon that travels the pothole-riddled road of authoritarianism.  It’s a road patrolled by people in strange uniforms, with sophisticated and articulate weapons, who dispense a vicious propaganda, and who always claim to have your best interest at heart.

Please make sure to call, email and/or tweet your state and federal legislators to voice your support for the availability and affordability of stem cell therapy.  The people who suffer with pain and disability will not be silenced and will not be censored.  Our democratic voice will be the response to their authoritarianism.

A. Rahman Ford.jpg

A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

The New Face of the Opioid Crisis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Caylee Cresta doesn’t have any illusions about being the next Internet star or YouTube sensation. But the 23-minute video she posted on what it’s like to be a chronic pain patient during an age of opioid hysteria has become a hit in the pain community.

“This video should be made to go viral,” one fan said.

“Caylee you did an amazing, persuasive presentation. Maybe you should be a lobbyist!” another one wrote.

“Single best piece of chronic pain patient advocacy I have ever seen. Absolutely brilliant!” wrote Chuck Malinowski.

Caylee’s video is not addressed to the pain community, but to the public at large. The 26-year old Massachusetts woman with fiery red hair looks directly into the camera and earnestly asks people to set aside their misconceptions about pain, addiction and the opioid crisis.

“I do not suffer from addiction and yet stigma will tell you that I do.  And that is a myth that we are going to change,” she says. “Don’t ever brush off the plight of the chronically ill because your lives can change in an instant, just as ours have.

“The fight against opiates is an uneducated one. This is a movement that lacks understanding in its most basic form. Every lawmaker is taking on this fight without ever consulting even a single chronically ill person. What does that mean? That means that the people who depend on these medications aren’t even being considered when taking them away.”

In her video, Caylee spends little time discussing her own experience as a pain patient. While still in high school, Caylee developed a rare and incurable neurological disorder called Stiff-person syndrome, which is characterized by strong muscle spasms and stiffness. The spams are so severe her lungs have collapsed twice.

“I’ll get such strong spasms in my throat and chest cavity that they create so much air that can’t escape (my lungs) that it just made them literally pop,” she told PNN. “My muscle spasms can break my bones, they’ll get that strong.”

Caylee’s symptoms were usually dismissed by doctors and it took years for her to get a proper diagnosis. Last year, a doctor at a pain clinic dropped her as a patient after getting a warning letter from Medicare that she was prescribing too many opioids. Caylee went without opioids for months, which is when her lungs burst.

Living in Fear

Although Massachusetts has a reputation as having some of the best healthcare in the world, Caylee now drives 3 hours one-way to see a neurologist in Connecticut.

“Any other doctor that I’ve seen over the years has literally looked at me and in one way or another and said, ‘Your prognosis is so dim. It’s so rare.’ They’re not even willing to take me on as a patient. My doctor has stuck by me and tried everything there is to try,” she says. 

Caylee has tried stem cells, chemotherapy and many other treatments. The only thing that works is opioid medication. Although she is once again able to get prescriptions for opioids, she often has trouble getting them filled. She and her husband went to 20 pharmacies one day before finding a pharmacist willing to fill her script.

“You live every single day in fear.  Every time you fill your prescription you go, okay, I’m going to have a life for another month. But you live that whole month with such anxiety and wondering what’s going to happen next,” she said. 

Caylee hopes her YouTube video will help educate the public about the daily challenges of being in pain and give some hope to pain sufferers.

“I want to fight for people going through this. I truly want to fight for them. I just want to let people know that they’re not alone. I want them to know that we’re all in this together,” says Caylee.

“What is probably the most humbling is when I get messages like ‘I would do anything for the world to be able to see this’ or ‘I would do anything for this to go viral and for people to understand what we go through.’ When I get messages like that, that let me know that these people feel like somebody is speaking for them, that touches me in a way that I can’t even explain.”