“60 Minutes” Investigation of Sham Stem Cell Therapies

By Dave Andrusko

Perhaps after you watched Tim Tebow and the Broncos defeat the Steelers last night, you stuck around to watch “60 Minutes” investigative report of “Stem Cell Fraud” It was well done, and in conjunction with a brief follow up today on “CBS This Morning,” it presents viewers with very useful information about sham “treatments” for very serious diseases.

The centerpiece of the  story, reported by Scott Pelley, is Dr. Dan Ecklund whom (according to ”60 Minutes”) “claims he can treat dozens of diseases using stem cells. But there’s a problem. Ecklund is a disgraced doctor whose medical license was revoked in 2005.”

“60 Minutes” worked with the parents of Adam Susser. Adam has cerebral palsy and is blind and paralyzed.

In a teleconference that “60 Minutes” watched and recorded, the Sussers were told by Dr. Ecklund that “I think it’s likely to help him, yes. I would say 75 percent chance that if– that he would have a noticeable improvement.”  He recommended four stem cell treatments with a price tag of $20,000.

The Sussers’ requested that Ecklund come from Ecuador to the United States to inject the stem cells that the Sussers had purchased from him over the Internet.

But prior to his arrival, “60 Minutes” had the stem cells checked by Joanne Kurtzberg, a physician and the chief scientific officer of a stem cell research program at Duke University. They were found to be dying or dead. When Ecklund walked in the door and was greeted by Pelley, it was all downhill from there for the owner of Stem Tech Labs of Ecuador which “offers cures for cerebral palsy and a long list of 70 incurable diseases,” according to Pelly.

It’s worth remember who ginned up the claims that stem cells from human embryos could cure virtually everything up to and including cerebral palsy, not to mention the boasts from John Edwards, who was John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, who gushed over Kerry and what embryonic stem cells would supposedly accomplish.

Edwards said of Kerry that he “was a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him [actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a riding accident]. “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

Second, it is unfortunate that there is only a passing reference to the legitimate work of the expert consulted by “60 Minutes” –Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg—who “advises the federal government and [who is] co-director of this multimillion dollar laboratory which works with stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood,” Pelly says.

“There are snake oil salesmen in the stem cell area too, and ‘60 minutes’ exposed one,” said Dr. David Prentice, an expert on stem cell research. “As ’60 Minutes’ remarked at the end of its report last night, two men who promised a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease have been indicted. If convicted they face the prospect of 20 years in jail.”

But Prentice also cautioned, “While they do a good job exposing a medical fraud, they do a poor job of exposing the truth about stem cell research, especially the fact that hundreds of published papers validate adult stem cell treatments, when done in legally and medically approved conditions.”

In fact adult stem cells, which come from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, and other tissues, already are a proven alternative to embryonic stem cells. “They are treating thousands of patients around the globe, with an estimated 50,000 legitimate adult stem cell transplants occurring annually worldwide,” Prentice said.

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