Injections of Hope
Doctors Promote Offshore Stem Cell Shots, but Some Patients Cry Foul
By Brian Vastag
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 2, 2008; HE01
A vast human experiment is afoot. And no one is taking good notes.
Fueled by demand from desperate patients, dozens of companies around the globe are peddling stem cell injections for $15,000 to $50,000 and more. Based merely on the claims made by these companies, at least a few thousand patients from the United States have paid for stem cells overseas.
Patients dart across the border to Mexico or jet to the Caribbean, India, China and elsewhere for injections of stem cells from embryos, fetuses, umbilical cords and the patients’ own fat, blood and bone marrow. These shots would be illegal in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any such treatments.
Online ads promoting this therapy target people with spinal injuries, Lou Gehrig’s disease, heart failure and other tough-to-treat conditions, promising improvements and even cures.
“Diseases and conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy . . . are all being successfully treated,” claims one site, returninghope.com. When asked to support the claims, Brian Dardzinksi, who operates the site from Bangkok and Hong Kong, provided one medical journal article describing the treatment of incontinence with muscle stem cells, an Austrian study now under investigation for possible ethics problems.
Dardzinski has no medical background and acts as a broker, matching U.S. patients with stem cell providers overseas. “Several hundred patient inquiries a month is not uncommon,” he said. “I’m just a businessman trying to do some good.”
Hope is the mountain upon which the mansions of snake-oil salesmen are built.
Medical chicanery, quacks: (Wikipedia) The word “quack” derives from the archaic word “quacksalver,” of Dutch origin (spelled kwakzalver in contemporary Dutch), meaning “boaster who applies a salve.” The meaning of the German word “Quacksalber” is “questionable salesperson (literal translation: quack salver).” In the Middle Ages the word quack meant “shouting”. The quacksalvers sold their wares on the market shouting in a loud voice.
Having just finished a fascinating book by Pope Brock, titled “Charlatan,” this whole offshoring of miracle cures harks back to 90 years ago and the great goat testicle rage for sexual restoration. “Dr.” John R. Brinkley sailed the largest yacht in the world until Morris Fishbein of the AMA finally brought him to his destruction in a fascinating travail that played out over thirty years in America, a nation gone wild for the ‘dream to build an erection on.’
The FDA is in a far stronger position then it was in Brinkley’s day, but the appeal of anything to bring hope to the hopeless is too strong a medicine to hold back. Consider yourself, your mother, wife, sweetheart or child suffering a debilitating or fatal health failure for which there is no cure.
Money? Suddenly no object. Travel? We’ll be there.
Cure? No, but then we did everything we could, spared no expense or effort. Even the failure feels like a success of sorts.
That’s the way of chicanery.