At first glance motor car racing legend A. J. Foyt and TV celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz would seem to have little in common. But this week they both made news for being at opposite ends of an all too familiar story: for-profit medical clinics offering unproven stem cell therapies.
Foyt, who is now 82 years old, made history by becoming the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (4 times), the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But along the way he crashed several times leading to a broken back, broken feet and legs and numerous other injuries. Now, in a story in USA Today he announced he is going to Mexico to get a stem cell treatment to help repair his battered body.
In the article he is quoted talking about the procedure to IndyCar.com:
“They have to cut away some of the tissue from my stomach and it takes 8-10 weeks for it to grow back to produce the stem cells. I’ll probably have it done soon so that we can begin the treatment within the next two to three months.”
He then plans on having those stem cells, taken from fat in his stomach, injected into his ankles, shoulders and blood.
Now, that doesn’t sound like any stem cell therapy I have ever heard of and ordinarily we’d blog about the risks involved in going to a clinic like this for a “treatment” like this. But this week we don’t have to, because Dr. Oz did it for us.
This week the Dr. Oz TV show ran a special investigative story that looked at for-profit stem cell clinics that offer ”treatments” for everything from arthritis to Alzheimer’s, using the same cells and the same approach.
In an accompanying blog called ‘Crucial Tips to Avoid Stem Cell Scammers’ Elizabeth Leamy – who took part in undercover visits to several clinics – says there are more than 570 clinics around the US offering unproven and unapproved treatments:
“What I learned is that revenue has eclipsed research. Hundreds of for-profit stem cell clinics already exist across the country because desperate patients will pay big money —$5,000 to $20,000 a pop— for stem cell treatments. Surely it’s no coincidence that the patients these clinics target are those with diseases for which there is no known cure.”
The blog does a terrific job of exposing the tricks that clinics use to get patients to sign up for these “treatments” and highlights key red flags for people to watch out for:
- Be wary of clinics that offer treatments with stem cells that originate from a part of the body that is different from the part being treated.
- Watch out for clinics where treatments are offered for a wide variety of conditions but rely on a single cell type.
- Be wary of clinics that measure or advertise their results primarily through patient testimonials.
- Be wary of claims that stem cells will somehow just know where to go and what to do to treat a specific condition.
She concludes by warning that “just because stem cells came from your body doesn’t mean they are safe,” then listing the complications, even deaths, that have occurred among patients going to clinics like this, both inside and outside the US, saying:
“Yes, what we heard in our undercover visits was troubling. But worst yet, the premature stem cell treatments of today could undermine trust in the promising stem cell treatments of tomorrow.”
Perhaps someone should tell A. J. Foyt.