The FBI has charged four men with illegally trafficking in stem cells, according to a report in a Charleston, S.C. newspaper. Apparently, one of the men convinced birth mothers at a clinic in Del Rio Texas to donate their placentas and umbilical cords to medical research. Instead, he allegedly sold the placentas and umbilical cords to a man posing as a doctor from a laboratory in Arizona, who shipped them to a third person, a faculty member at the Medical University of South Carolina. Stem cells were harvested in South Carolina and then shipped back to Texas, where a fourth person who operated a “biotherapy clinic” allegedly convinced terminally ill patients that the stem cells would be a miracle cure for diseases such as ALS, MS, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. The patients traveled to Mexico for the stem cell injection procedures. The four men allegedly made more than $1.5 million from the scheme.
Stem cells are being used legitimately in human clinical trials, but those trials follow FDA guidelines that include government oversight and evidence of the patients’ informed consent. That was not the case here. According to an FBI spokesman, this was “a scheme whereby the suffering and hopes of victims in extreme medical need were used and manipulated for personal profit. The predatory and opportunistic nature of the crimes alleged in this indictment mirrors images from science fiction.”
We’ve all heard of the potential of stem cells, and we all hope that some day perhaps they will be a miracle cure for certain diseases. But the hard truth is that stem cell research and especially treatment of disease with stem cells is still in its infancy. No one should be experimenting on unsuspecting patients.