Can Stem Cells Treat Lyme Disease?

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

In a recent article in Scientific American, author Mary Beth Pfeiffer paints a startling portrait of Lyme disease in America.  She describes the “peril and menace” now associated with many forests, parks and even some backyards -- landscapes that Lyme disease-carrying ticks inhabit in ever-increasing numbers. 

“Although children are the most frequently diagnosed group and thousands of infected patients develop long-term infirmity every year, little has been done to curb the spread of the ticks,” Pfeiffer wrote. 

According to the article, the primary reason for the explosion in Lyme disease is that mainstream medicine continues to labor under the long-disproven myth that the disease is easy to diagnose and treat.  In truth, diagnosis is complex, and treatment options are woefully inadequate and sometimes even dangerous. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the U.S.  It is transmitted by the bite of a blacklegged tick, or deer tick, that is infected with Borrelia burgdorferi or Borrelia mayonii bacteria. 

Deer ticks tend to thrive in woody or grassy areas.  Although most cases are reported from northeastern states like New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, states like Minnesota and Wisconsin have also reported cases. The geographic distribution seems to be expanding, along with an increase in the number of counties reporting Lyme cases.

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In 2016, there were over 36,000 confirmed or probable cases of Lyme disease, although the actual number may be ten times as high. Common symptoms include a small red bump at the site of the tick bite, which can expand into a rash that forms into a bull’s-eye pattern.  Flu-like symptoms are also common. 

If Lyme disease is left untreated, multiple symptoms may emerge which may be dermatological, musculoskeletal, neurological and/or cardiovascular in nature.  Symptoms can include severe joint pain and swelling, meningitis (swelling of the brain), paralysis, numbness, weakness of the limbs and impaired muscle movement.  These symptoms can last for months or even years.  Because they tend to mimic the symptoms of other diseases, Lyme is often misdiagnosed.

There is no consistently reliable test for Lyme disease and diagnosing it can be tricky.  Oftentimes, patients do not present with a rash or any other common symptoms.  Laboratory tests, like enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which are designed to detect bacterial antibodies, can give false positives.  And the Western Blot test, used to confirm ELISA results, has no standard criteria for interpretation.

Treatment for Lyme disease is likewise problematic.  The standard course of treatment is a 14 to 21 day course of oral antibiotics.  If the patient presents with neurological symptoms, intravenous administration may be preferred.  According to the Mayo Clinic,  “after treatment, a small number of people still have symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue,  the cause of these continuing symptoms, known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, is unknown, and treating with more antibiotics doesn’t help.”

However, many holistic practitioners disagree, contending that the number of patients with post-treatment symptoms is far larger than estimated, and an extended course of antibiotics – or other treatment modalities – may be warranted.  Several of these physicians have had their licenses revoked, faced other disciplinary actions for ethics violations, or even been sent to prison.

Stem Cells and Lyme Disease

Given that the standard course of treatment fails many Lyme disease patients, alternative therapies are needed.  Stem cells may be a viable option to treat symptoms associated with Lyme disease syndrome because they are inflammatory in nature.  Mesenchymal stem cells, which may be readily obtained from bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue, are known to possess immunomodulatory properties.  This means they could potentially lower inflammation and resolve the stubborn persistent Lyme symptoms that refuse to respond to conventional antibiotic therapies. 

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KELLY OSBOURNE

Although the evidence for the efficacy of stem cell therapy in treating Lyme disease is largely anecdotal, the stories are compelling.

In one high-profile case, former E!’s Fashion Police host and Project Runway Junior judge Kelly Osbourne details her experience with Lyme disease in her memoir.  

In 2004, Osbourne was bitten by a tick from a reindeer at her father Ozzy’s 56th birthday party.  As a result of the bite, she suffered for a decade with “traveling pain” from a sore throat and stomach aches, which eventually led to a seizure on the set of Fashion Police.

 Osbourne was later diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed drugs that, in her words, “turned her into a zombie.”  She went from taking Ambien to Trazodone to painkillers to anxiety medication.

After visiting an alternative medical practitioner, Osbourne tested positive for Lyme disease.  Rather than try to treat the disease with antibiotics, she went to Germany for stem cell therapy.  That therapy was a success.  In her words, “I was experiencing emotions and feelings again.” 

Osbourne initially kept quiet about what she calls her “cure” because she feared retribution from pharmaceutical companies.  She has since become an advocate for stem cell therapy.

Patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease need options.  Stem cell therapy could be one of them.

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.

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Taking Stem Cells to the Bank

By A. Rahman Ford, Columnist

There’s a lot of hope and hype surrounding stem cells – the latest being the idea of “banking” them -- harvesting and storing your own stem cells for future use.

A biotech start-up called Forever Labs maintains that young adults have healthier cells that can be used when they are older to fight arthritis and other age-related diseases – or perhaps even help them live longer with a booster shot of younger cells. 

“Research suggests the decline in the number and viability of bone marrow stem cells plays a role in the physical decline associated with aging. In fact, simply injecting genetically-matched young stem cells into aged mice significantly increases their lifespan,” the company claims on its website. “To have access to young, genetically-matched stem cells in the future, store yours today.

Collection of bone and bone marrow stem cells is done by a Forever Labs physician in a 15-minute out-patient procedure that costs about $2,000.  Your cells are then cryogenically frozen and stored for $250 a year.  

Another company, called LifeVault, offers a similar service at a lower price: $995 to have a blood sample drawn and shipped to a lab in New Jersey, where the blood will be processed into stem cells and stored for $95 a year. 

“We believe, and medicine is starting to believe, that this is really going to be a part of your health hygiene,” LifeVault CEO Trevor Perry told STAT News. He called the company’s test kit a form of “biological insurance.”

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“You insure a lot of things in your life, but have you taken out a policy on yourself?” Perry asked.

LifeVault and Forever Labs are indicative of a larger trend in the fast-growing stem cell industry. As hundreds of stem cell clinics have opened around the country – offering treatment for everything from back pain to neuropathy – stem cell banking has moved beyond its original use for research toward commercialization for everyday people.  

The global stem cell banking market is projected to reach $9.3 billion by 2023, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets, with the personalized banking segment projected to account for most of that growth.

In addition to blood and bone marrow, stem cells from a variety of other sources can be banked, including dental tissue, umbilical cord blood, placental tissue, adipose fat tissue and fetal tissue.

Umbilical cord blood and adipose tissue are currently the most commonly banked sources of stem cells.  This is largely because of practical concerns such as low cost, ease of access to the tissue, and the ability to harvest large amounts of stem cells.  

Cord blood contains primarily hematopoietic stem cells, along with a mixture of other cell types that may be suitable for treating certain rare genetic diseases.  Adipose tissue contains an abundance of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a type of stem cell with immune and regenerative capabilities.  Both types have been used to treat orthopedic, neurological and cardiovascular conditions.

Several factors impact the use of cells stored in stem cell banks.  First, the source of the stem cells must be taken into consideration.  Autologous stem cells --- which come from the patient being treated -- are easier from a medical and regulatory point of view because the risk of immune system rejection is lower, as is the risk of running afoul of FDA regulations. 

Methods of collection and processing are also critical.  In the case of cord blood, most companies use small bags to collect the blood at the time of birth. Cord tissue can also be collected, stored and used later for regenerative purposes.  

Adipose tissues are obtained through liposuction procedures or by syringe under local anesthetic.  The adipose fat must be processed and preserved within 36 hours of harvesting.  The material is washed with saline and ultimately stored in a liquid nitrogen freezer.  

While still relatively new, stem cell banking is poised for healthy growth.  That growth is buttressed by the unfortunate rise in chronic diseases among both children and adults.  Growth and competition should also result in lower costs, a factor which surely deters many interested clients from taking out that “biological insurance” policy on themselves. 

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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.

TV Host Tries Stem Cell Therapy for Chronic Back Pain

Reality TV star Tarek El Moussa – host of HGTV’S “Flip or Flop” – recently posted photos on Instagram detailing his experience with stem cell therapy. 

El Moussa has a history of back injuries causing severe pain. He lost 50 pounds while recovering from one back injury and was taking “large amounts of pain meds to try and help the pain.” 

“Truthfully those meds really affected my mental and physical state and changed who I was,” El Moussa posted.

When he recently injured his back again and could “barely walk,” El Moussa decided stem cell therapy was a better option. In one photo of the stem cell procedure, El Moussa shows a 12-inch needle being inserted into his lower back to remove fat cells, a procedure similar to liposuction.

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TAREK EL MOUSSA

“I believe they put over 1,000,000 stem cells back in my body after the lipo. It's wild seeing the technology and future of medicine,” he wrote.

A post-operative photo shows El Moussa’s discolored and bruised lower back three days later. He said he was still “a little sore” but that his back was “actually feeling better!” He’s hoping for a “major improvement” from the procedure in a few weeks.

El Moussa’s therapy involved a controversial stem cell product known as stromal vascular fraction (SVF).  It’s the same product at the center of two lawsuits recently filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FDA against stem cell clinics in Florida and California.

What is Stromal Vascular Fraction?

SVF uses autologous stem cells derived from a patient’s own body, including adipose (fat) cells obtained through liposuction.  When injected back into the body, these stem cells stimulate the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties, and promote the development of new blood vessels. All help to heal injured tissues.

For clinicians, the attraction of SVF is that the procedure is “point of care” or delivered at the time of care.  In theory, this would exempt the therapy from FDA rules for stem cell products under the “same surgical procedure” exception.  The FDA, however, doesn’t agree with that interpretation and has yet to approve SVF use. It considers the procedure unproven and experimental. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of stem cell clinics from offering SVF therapy.

SVF generally has a good safety profile.  Potential risks of SVF therapy include lack of standardization of SVF products and terminology, unwanted tissue differentiation, poor cell handling and insufficient data on dose versus effect. 

Evidence regarding the clinical efficacy of SVF in treating painful conditions is limited.  Jaewoo Pak, MD successfully treated patients with knee osteoarthritis.  Their pain scores, functional ability and cartilage regeneration were all improved through SVF therapy.  Pak also achieved success in treating meniscus tears and osteoarthritis of the hip.  

In 2015, three researchers for the Cell Surgical Network (who are defendants in the FDA lawsuits) reported on their treatment of 1,524 patients with SVF who lived with painful conditions such as osteoarthritis.  About 25% of the patients showed evidence of new cartilage formation in their joints and 80% had a significant reduction in pain.  The beneficial effects of SVF were sustained for well over six months and some for several years.  The researchers also reported success in treating neurodegenerative diseases, with 80% of the patients with interstitial cystitis showing pain reduction.

Despite the controversy and lawsuits, El Moussa and thousands of other patients are willing to give SVF therapy a try. We’ll keep you updated on his progress.

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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.

FDA Seeks Shutdown of Stem Cell Clinics

By Pat Anson Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stepped up its crackdown on the stem cell industry by filing two complaints in federal court seeking permanent injunctions against stem cell clinics in Florida and California.

US Stem Cell of Sunrise, Florida and California Stem Cell Treatment Center are accused of marketing stem cell products without FDA approval and for “significant deviations” from safety and manufacturing guidelines. Both companies said they would “vigorously defend” themselves and challenge the FDA’s authority to regulate autologous stem cells, which are made from a patient’s own blood or tissue.

The  lawsuits could ultimately decide the fate of hundreds of stem cell clinics that have opened around the country in recent years, offering new therapies for arthritis, neuropathy, degenerative disc disease and other chronic conditions.

“Cell-based regenerative medicine holds significant medical opportunity, but we’ve also seen some bad actors leverage the scientific promise of this field to peddle unapproved treatments that put patients’ health at risk. In some instances, patients have suffered serious and permanent harm after receiving these unapproved products,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement.

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In 2015, three elderly women became legally blind after having unapproved stem cell treatments for macular degeneration at US Stem Cell. The clinic was also warned by the FDA last year to stop using adipose tissue (body fat) to make stem cells that were injected into the spinal cords of patients.

The FDA alleges that California Stem Cell Treatment Center – which has clinics in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage -- is also using stem cells derived from adipose tissue to treat patients suffering from arthritis, stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, cancer and other conditions.

“The unproven and potentially dangerous treatment was being injected intravenously and directly into patients’ tumors,” the FDA said.

The case against California Stem Cell could have a broad impact because it also targets the Cell Surgical Network Corporation (CSN), which has a chain of about 100 stem cell clinics. At issue in both lawsuits is whether a patient’s own stem cells can be used for therapeutic purposes and are outside the control of federal agencies like the FDA.

“CSN strongly rejects the idea that a person’s own cells should be regulated by FDA as a drug,” Dr. Elliot Lander of CSN and California Stem Cell Treatment Center said in an email to The Niche, a stem cell blog.

“We share FDA’s concern for patient safety, but do not believe that FDA regulation of a surgical procedure that simply harnesses the healing power of a patient’s own cells, without altering the biological characteristics of those cells, is the answer. The decision of whether or not the surgical procedure is performed should be made by the patient and physician – not the FDA or any other arm of the federal government.”

US Stem Cell also released a statement on its website, saying it would “vigorously defend medical freedom of Americans.”

Stem Cell Therapy Becoming More Affordable

By Dr. Kristin Comella, Guest Columnist

Demand for stem cell therapy in the U.S. is anticipated to be at an all-time high this year as more patients seek to use their own cells to heal from various injuries and diseases. Among them are many chronic pain patients seeking alternatives to opioid medication and surgery for treating pain caused by systemic diseases, orthopedic conditions, neurological problems and aging.

At one time many patients traveled outside the country and were paying $20,000 to $50,000 for treatment at stem cell clinics in Europe and Asia. But over the past five years, the cost of stem cell therapy has come down dramatically.

Stem cell providers have been able to simplify the process into an outpatient protocol at hundreds of clinics throughout the U.S. As a result, costs are lower -- typically from $5,000 to $12,000 -- depending on the specific condition, practitioner, location and treatments required.

As with any specialized procedure, the cost will reflect the depth of the treatment and the time spent working with the patient. Unfortunately, stem cell treatments are not usually covered by insurance.

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When compared to traditional surgery, where in most cases there is a similar price point and significant down-time, out-patient stem cell therapy is much less invasive. Patients treated with stem cells can return to their regular routines soon after the simple procedure, rather than requiring weeks of physical therapy or needing crutches and wheelchairs to get around.

Recent studies show that stem cells may be used in a variety of indications where opioids are frequently prescribed, such as back pain.  I recently co-authored a small study appearing in the Journal of Translational Medicine, in which 15 patients with degenerative disc disease were treated with stem cells derived from their own fat tissue. All 15 patients reported a statistically significant reduced pain level after stem cell therapy.

Adult stem cells may have the ability to improve and possibly even reverse the effects of many types of chronic pain caused by tissue or neurological damage. Adult stem cells are found in every part of the body, and can be harvested from a patient’s own tissue, such as adipose (fat) tissue, muscle, teeth, skin or bone marrow. Fat tissue is one of the most plentiful sources of stem cells in the body. In fact, approximately 500 times more stem cells can be obtained from fat than bone marrow.

Typically, during a simple outpatient procedure, stem cells can be isolated from fat tissue in 30 to 90 minutes, under local anesthesia using a mini-lipoaspirate technique. They can then be infused or re-injected after the mini-liposuction.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research underscores the safety of using a person’s own stem cells – known as autologous stem cells -- in treating degenerative diseases and injuries. The study was the largest safety trial to date that successfully used stem cells from fat in procedures completed on 676 patients. It is also the first trial to address cells from fat in multiple diseases and with different delivery routes.

To date, more than 10,000 patients have been successfully treated using the stem cell protocols being utilized at American Stem Cell.  There has been a significant increase in interest from patients in using stem cells for general health, anti-aging, and reducing inflammation. More and more patients are also seeking to preserve and bank their cells for “just in case” scenarios.

The positive results we’ve been getting are very encouraging and offer hope for many patients battling chronic pain. 

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Kristin Comella, PhD, is Chief Science Officer for American Stem Cell Centers of Excellence. She specializes in regenerative medicine with a focus on adipose derived stem cells.

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

FDA Moves Forward on Stem Cells

By A. Rahman Ford, Columnist

The Food and Drug Administration is finally getting the message.

In a special report published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the FDA makes a clear and positive shift in its stem cell policy – conceding that the old paradigm of drug approval just doesn’t work for stem cells.

The report, entitled “Balancing Safety and Innovation for Cell-Based Regenerative Medicine” is authored by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Peter Marks, MD, Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. 

Although short on specifics, Gottlieb and Marks declare their openness to creating alternative paths toward FDA approval of stem cell products – a policy change that could help stem cell therapies get to market faster and help patients sooner. This is a welcome move by the FDA. 

The tone used by the authors signals that the FDA is listening to the voice of the people and stem cell developers. Gottlieb and Marks wrote the FDA must take “an original policy approach to the regulation of a highly innovative field, one in which [the FDA’s] traditional approach to regulation may not be as efficient or effective as in more mature fields.” 

They maintain further that by working “within the existing regulatory framework” and by adopting “new principles,” the FDA’s premarket evaluation of stem-cell therapies will become more efficient. 

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It seems the agency could no longer ignore the fact that patients – such as those who suffer from chronic pain – cannot wait for the rusty gears of the antiquated clinical trial process to churn out the treatments they need to save their lives.

FDA Breaks with Past

The tone set by Marks and Gottlieb differs significantly from that of Gottlieb’s predecessor, Robert Caliiff, MD, who co-authored a NEJM article last year entitled “Clarifying Stem Cell Therapy’s Benefits and Risks.”  As I’ve previously discussed, the arguments made by Califf were seriously problematic, specifically with regard to autologous therapies, which use stem cells made from a patient’s own blood or body tissue  

Although Califf and his co-authors acknowledged the “unique challenges of stem cell clinical research,” their overall posture was decisively rigid in regard to new approaches to FDA approval.  As an indication of just how low of a priority outreach was to them, they made no mention of working with stem cell investigators and sponsors until the final sentence of the article.  For the previous regime, outreach was an afterthought.

Marks and Gottlieb seem to be taking a more conciliatory approach by extending a regulatory olive branch to stem cell physicians and small clinics.  Unlike previous FDA statements, they spent less time on the spurious issue of safety and instead pivot toward the effectiveness of treatment and moving forward with commercialization.  In doing so, the they acknowledge that the novelty of stem cell technologies require a more flexible path toward approval.

To accommodate this move and to facilitate the expedited availability of stem cells to patients, the FDA will use the expanded authorities granted it by the 21st Century Cures Act.  The Cures Act allows the FDA to use non-traditional types of data – such as clinical data – to receive FDA approval.  Notably, the FDA will be incorporating some “new concepts for how small investigators and firms can seek and meet the approval standard for products through efficient expedited pathways.”  This is a step in the right direction.

How exactly will this work in practice?  No one really knows.  Marks and Gottlieb only provide one theoretical example: the FDA will provide “tools” to allow small firms to work collaboratively to obtain a biologics license for physicians, researchers and clinics.

Any outreach by the FDA should be welcomed and any attempt to expedite the availability of stem cell therapies to patients who need them should be encouraged.  However, given the dearth of detail offered by Gottlieb and Marks, precisely how these alternatives will work in practice remains nebulous.  Thus, the overtures made by the FDA are – at this point -- best met with skepticism and a cautious optimism

If the FDA is truly open to novel approaches to stem cell regulation, it should devise separate rules for autologous therapies – which former Commissioner Califf acknowledged “raise fewer safety concerns than allogenic cells.”  Regulation of autologous therapies by the FDA should be minimal, with the majority of oversight left to state governments and their agencies.

These new policy changes by the FDA are forward-thinking and should proceed further.  However, as promising as those options appear, they should in no way be construed as delegitimizing or nullifying legislative advances made in Texas or those that will be made when Congress enacts “Right to Try” legislation. 

All of these options can function cooperatively to ensure that the patients – often the most overlooked quantity in the medical policy equation – can receive the life-saving and curative treatments they need as soon as possible.

The FDA may offer many paths, but it need not be the only path.

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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.

Should the ‘War on Stem Cells’ Be Fought in Court?

By A. Rahman Ford, Columnist

A recent article published in the journal Regenerative Medicine suggests that civil lawsuits should be used to protect patients and draw attention to unscrupulous stem cell clinics. 

The authors, Claire Horner, Evelyn Tennenbaum, Zubin Master and Douglas Sipp, contend that civil litigation would "convincingly show patients and society that there are real and significant harms from unproven SCIs (stem cell interventions), and this strategy may complement the arsenal of efforts focused on reining in this industry.” 

Horner, Tennenbaum and Master are academics in medical ethics at Baylor College of Medicine, Albany Law School and the Mayo Clinic, respectively; while Sipp is affiliated with RIKEN, a Japanese research institute that is developing stem cell technology.

Their use of the word “arsenal” sounds like a declaration of war, an unfortunate, fratricidal war against their fellow Americans who need stem cells to treat their pain and disability.  After reading their article, it’s clear that fearmongering is their best weapon.

The authors really don’t like clinics that use a patient’s own stem cells to heal themselves.  They lament that many industrialized countries are moving toward more openness in accelerated approval of stem cells and other regenerative therapies.  And they contend that inadequate enforcement and penalties at the U.S. federal level justify the need for lawsuits.

“In the absence of government oversight of private sector firms, patients and consumers may need to look elsewhere to protect their interests. Civil litigation provides a means for patients who feel they have been harmed by undergoing a SCI to seek redress and compensation from providers and may also motivate government and industry to address the issue on a larger scale,” they wrote.

The most stupefying part is that the authors go so far as to compare the issue to tobacco companies, gun violence and child molestation! 

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The authors admit at the outset that the main goal of their campaign is to propagandize the public and policy-makers.  They state plainly that “stem cell lawsuits may help raise public awareness and influence public policy” and would help draw “attention to negative outcomes and engender moral outrage on the behalf of vulnerable and sympathetic plaintiffs.” 

This tactic would shift attention away from pesky patients’ rights advocates who support broader availability of the potentially life-saving treatments offered by stem cells.  They see this strategy as viable because it worked for consumers injured by the tobacco industry, victims of gun violence, and sexual abuse victims molested by Catholic priests.  The fact that the authors would put stem cell clinics – and by extension stem cell patients – in the same category as Philip Morris, AR-15 gun manufacturers and pedophile Catholic priests is simply ludicrous.

For the authors, civil litigation is essentially a propaganda tool in their misguided war against a non-existent enemy. They advocate using civil litigation to “attract public attention” and “shape the media narrative.” Information operations such as these are an age-old concept in international relations and warfare, that includes the collection of tactical information about an adversary as well as the dissemination of propaganda in the pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. 

And how do the authors intend to collect their tactical information?  They will use the civil litigation discovery process to uncover “previously undisclosed information about a provider’s practices” that could potentially trigger FDA investigations. 

Overall, the tone of the authors’ proposal is that of combativeness and belligerence, not negotiation and reconciliation.  As with all misguided wars, it is civilians – those who the war is allegedly waged to protect – are the ones who suffer the most.

Little Evidence to Support ‘War on Stem Cells’

Even worse, they don’t show their “war on stem cells” is supported by any real-world evidence.  Their methodology is insufficiently rigorous; it lacks integrity to the point of being flimsy, porous and leaky.  The data which serve as the cornerstone of the authors’ argument are 9 court cases in which plaintiffs allege that the stem cell therapy they received was either ineffective or injurious.  

This sample is far too small to seriously support any meaningful conclusions, much less the authors’ conclusion that the number of legal claims is growing.  The 9 cases cited were filed between 2012 and 2017 for a wide variety of medical conditions and for a wide variety of causes of action.

Not only are we not told how many stem cell procedures were actually performed in American clinics over the same time span, but in none of the 9 cases cited was there a disposition in favor of the plaintiffs!  In fact, one was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs and another was dismissed on appeal.  Of the remaining seven, 4 were settled and 4 have yet to be decided. 

So none of the claims of negligence, misrepresentation, fraud, lack of informed consent, or unfair trade practices were ever proven.  The authors acknowledge that this is a problem, and in desperation turn to a Japanese case to support their claims.  The problem is the authors openly admit that “the U.S. administrative and legal systems differ greatly from Japan’s.”  It’s never a good idea to undermine your own argument.

If the authors are truly motivated by the safety and welfare of stem cell patients, then perhaps their efforts would be better spent advocating for the increased democratization and liberalization of stem cell policy. 

This can be accomplished by supporting policies geared toward the availability and affordability of stem cell therapies, such as the patient-centered ethos of “Right to Try” legislation, the regenerative medicine provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, and the constitutionally-protected privacy right in a patient’s use of their own stem cells. 

We need less antagonism and asymmetry in stem cell policy-making, and more alliance-building and acceptance of a new paradigm of progress. The solution is not more litigation against people, but more listening to the people.

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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.