60 Minutes Investigation – Stem Cell Fraud

I would like to make a comment on this 60 minutes video. First off, I am a sucker for the underdog. Although I am not defending this man, I have to say the reporting and investigation is a bit dramatic and one sided.   Chris Arnold from the SCI forum comments “Could it be that the primary aim of this production was a good dollop of shock/horror that will guarantee good viewing numbers? “

Perhaps the real story that should have been investigated is why is it that so little progress has been made toward a Cure for Brain Injury?   Where is the money that is being invested into research actually going?   Is it being spent  efficiently?   Is there accountability?  But that would not make for very dramatic reporting…

Regarding the risk of Stem Cell treatment and other non-standard treatments.  Yes, they can have huge risks.   However, here is the issue. All of medicine is filled with risk. No doctor or no amount of clinical trials can tell you if a procedure is effective or risk free for you. The issue is that when it comes to humans, the sample size is ONE. There is only one you and when you take any drug, undergo any procedure, etc. How your body reacts is going to be unique. Yes, aspirin is safe for a large part of the population; however it kills thousands of people each year! Thousands!

The July 1998 issue of The American Journal of Medicine explains it as follows: “Conservative calculations estimate that approximately 107,000 patients are hospitalized annually for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-related gastrointestinal (GI) complications and at least 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur each year among arthritis patients alone.”

With regard to Stem Cells, I think the ideal approach is to allow people to make their own informed choices. To assume that all people who chose to perform a risky procedure are “tricked” or “stupid” and therefore need to be told what procedures can and can’t be used by government is utterly wrong.

Doctors routinely prescribe off-label medications. Some estimates say it accounts for 50 percent of all drug use in the USA. Getting back to the 60 minutes interrogation question “if stems cells had been clinically tested”. Off-label prescriptions are a similar offense. The FDA tests all therapies on a specific disease, and the pharmacies sell the approved drugs for that condition only. But doctors can prescribe them regardless, and this is called off-label and no one dares to call the doctor a con-man.

Again, I am not defending this particular stem cell clinic. I am not defending stem cells. What I am defending is the right of an individual to make an informed decision on their own, with-out interference from institutions that would have you believe that they are infallible, but in fact they are far from that. (As the thousands of deaths that occur annually from FDA approved drugs attest).

Another thought goes to the pace of progress in the current USA driven research model. Yes, you will argue that the pace of progress must be slow in order to ensure optimal safety and effectiveness. Sure, I understand all that. But tell that to someone whose life is slipping away from them. Tell that to a family who is watching their child suffer each day.

My thought is that there must be room for a fast track. If you want to take the slow and safe route because you feel better about that approach, that is fine. However, there should be fast track options for those who do not have the luxury to wait. In many cases, this is exactly what doctors do with off-label prescriptions. It is also what clinics operating outside the USA and offering potentially dangerous, but potentially groundbreaking treatments are offering. There needs to be a place for this fast track approach and by definition, if it’s not approved by the APA and the FDA, it should not be called a con.

People are smarter then professionals would like to admit. We need to challenge the status quo. We need to demand results based funding. We need some doctors and researchers to live each day like it was soon to be their last in order to accelerate the pace of discovery.

60 Minutes – Stem Cell Fraud

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