Regenerative medicine offers exciting advancements in the treatment of many diseases — especially musculoskeletal and orthopedic conditions.
Popularly referred to as “stem cell treatments,” legitimate regenerative medicine uses the patient’s own blood, platelet and bone marrow products to heal injured or diseased tissue. In the orthopedic arena, qualified practitioners include orthopedic surgeons and musculoskeletal specialists with appropriate knowledge and training in cellular science and surgery.
While these breakthroughs are remarkable, there is confusion in the health care marketplace regarding what is a safe and effective treatment and what is health fraud.
A number of unqualified practitioners are promoting the illegitimate use of amniotic membranes, umbilical cord blood and other products for curing a variety of ailments, including arthritis, spinal cord injuries, strokes, blindness and autism.
These claims are completely unfounded and the use of these products for these purposes is nothing short of quackery.
Leveraging a person’s desperation for a cure, or at least relief from devastating symptoms, these providers twist available scientific data to support their unfounded claims, charging patients thousands of dollars for treatments that will not work. Moreover, the insurance industry often does not pay for this care, leaving families financially devastated as well.
The most common claim is that there are living progenitor stem cells in the umbilical cord blood and amniotic membranes. Further, by injecting these purportedly living stem cells into the body, the patient’s disease or injury will be resolved.
These statements are patently false. Indeed, a small amount of live stem cells are present in placental products immediately after birth, but once the amniotic and cord products are processed, these stem cells are no longer living, and therefore offer no medical benefits to a patient.
Duplicitous clinics that offer umbilical cord and amniotic membrane injection treatments often use a bait and switch process to justify their procedures and exorbitant expenses. For example, they present a patient with studies conducted using fresh amniotic tissues but use processed amniotic products in their treatment, which will not produce the same results.
Another switch is to document that the treatment is effective, but fail to explain that the result was achieved for a different injury or condition than the one the patient exhibits. A third, crueler deception is to convince patients that they are taking part in a clinical trial, when in fact they receive dubious treatments from unqualified practitioners.
Not only are clinics providing these dangerous treatments, a growing number are marketing their practice through “amniotic stem cell seminars” targeted to draw in desperate individuals. Using the same techniques proven effective in selling time shares, there are “deep discounts” if you buy treatments during the seminar.
Most people attending these seminars are looking for help, and don’t have the expertise to ask the smart questions that will distinguish true care from health fraud.
From every corner of Oregon, there are at least two reasons why this scam is so rampant. First, stem cell therapy has become the new “cutting edge treatment” and desperate people are lining up with wallets open to find a cure to their conditions.
Not only are they risking their money, but in some instances their health as well. The second reason is that nothing is being done to regulate this industry or making those providing untried, and in some instances illegal, treatments accountable for the fraud they are perpetrating on the public. The lack of regulations allows clinics to exploit a person’s fear and ignorance for their own profit.
The improper use of amniotic tissue products, umbilical cord blood, and other human tissue products will continue to grow exponentially, destroying hundreds of thousands of lives, unless state and federal governments take action.
Oregon policymakers and health licensing boards should take much needed action to scrutinize practitioners promoting these products for unapproved and unproven uses, and discipline them for unprofessional conduct.