Stem cells are one of those things people don't really know much about, although they sound impressive. That was perhaps what the founders of the grandly named Stem Cell Institute of America were hoping.
The Georgia-based "institute" was actually a clinic run by a chiropractor and a handful of associates. It promoted bogus claims that its treatments were effective in treating arthritis, joint pain, and a range of other orthopedic ailments, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission and Georgia state officials.
"These defendants advertised expensive stem cell injections with baseless pain-relief claims, and provided marketing materials and training to chiropractors to do the same,” said Samuel Levine, Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “With our partner, the Georgia Attorney General, we aim to ensure they can’t keep preying on older adults and others who need real medical help.”
The complaint states SCIA trained its client clinics on how to recruit patients through advertising, host free educational seminars, and conduct consultations. SCIA also provided its clients access to a “vault” of sample advertisements, including newspaper ads, fact sheets, and PowerPoint slides and provided client clinics with the appearance of being part of a large nationwide network under the SCIA name and logo.
About stem cells
Stem cells are basically the "raw material" of the human body. They're the cells from which other, more specialized cells are generated. Researchers are working to develop what's called regenerative medicine, which might use stem cells to replace cells that are defective or that have been damaged by disease processes.
In particular, it is hoped that regenerative medicine will soon be useful in organ transplants, replacing the current reliance on an inadequate number of donor human organs.
They're not involved in mainstream medical treatment of arthritis, joint pain or the other disorders touted by the Georgia clinic. Major medical centers sometimes use stem cell-derived treatments for patients with certain cancers and other diseases.
A quick trip to your favorite search engine will produce a long list of supposed stem cell institutes. A few are legitimate research centers, usually located at major universities. They do not advertise treatments for sore knees or erectile dysfunction. Most are strictly research and do not treat patients at all.
What to do
As with all things health-related, the first step is to check with your doctor. Going to a free-standing clinic not affiliated with a major university of hospital without discussing it with your physician is dangerous.
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates stem cells, cautions that no one should accept treatment that is not covered by an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) issued by the FDA.
"Some clinics may inappropriately advertise stem cell clinical trials without submitting an IND. Some clinics also may falsely advertise that FDA review and approval of the stem cell therapy is unnecessary," the FDA says on its website. "But when clinical trials are not conducted under an IND, it means that the FDA has not reviewed the experimental therapy to help make sure it is reasonably safe. So be cautious about these treatments."