April 13, 2010

Stem Cells for Autism

Danny is an 8-year old on the very functional part of the autism spectrum. He’s happy, has friends, and is in a mainstream class where his work is on grade level. He’s a success in nearly every important way a parent could want. Still, at his most recent visit, his mom gave me a flyer for a company offering fetal stem-cell transplant as a cure for autism. She asked me to take a look at it (she insisted it was dad’s idea) and let them know what I thought. Having, as I do, such a large number of patients on the autism spectrum has helped me learn a lot about treatments that are available. I hadn’t heard of this one, so I was particularly interested in learning about it.

First, here’s a dependable stock tip. People who really know how to make money in the financial markets never, ever, consider selling or sharing that knowledge. If they knew a sure way of making money through a technical analysis system, computer program, or any other way, why would they have an infomercial?

I took a careful look at the brochure. I looked at the website, looked up the people involved.

Have you heard of stem-cell transplants? Sure you have. I’m no expert in this, but here’s the general idea. A person has a specific disease caused by some cells that aren’t working right. We give them new cells, that have the sense to replace the ones that aren’t working right. In this way, a cure becomes possible. Most cells have a certain function. But stem cells are cells that can take on different functions, depending on what’s needed. It’s a promising idea, but hasn’t really resulting in major cures yet.

So is autism caused by a problem with the way that specific types of cells are working? There’s no evidence for this. No one knows what causes autism. A working treatment for autism would be a shortcut to financial and Nobel prizes.

Have you heard of a cure for autism? No? We all know that autism is a mystery. Among ways to achieve fame and fortune, finding a cure for it isn’t something that would be unnoticed. If you had a for-profit business that had such a cure, would you keep it quiet?

You’d be right again, even if you don’t follow the details of ongoing stem-cell research news, to think that you haven’t heard much about using stem cells for autism. Maybe you’ve heard about researchers trying it with some forms of cancer, and some awful neurological and brain diseases for which there aren’t other good treatments. Though there aren’t other good treatments for autism, nobody knows what causes autism. For this very reason, there’s no reason to think that stem cells will help. I can’t swear that they won’t help, but I also don’t know if seawater will help, or radio waves, or marshmallows.

Oh, did I mention they propose to use stem cells from rabbits? Have you been hearing a lot about transplanting rabbit cells into humans? Me neither.rabbit1
It might occur to you that this must be an exotic, cutting-edge research facility that is pushing the envelope in xenotransplantation to give hope to the hopeless. Some place like UCSF or Yale. The rabbit cells are ‘manufactured’ in Europe. The transplantation into humans and claim that it will cure autism would result, even there, with lost licenses, criminal charges, and likely jail time. So the company has a courier carry the processed bunny cells to an undisclosed--seriously--site in Asia somewhere. There, an unnamed practitioner of some sort does the actual transplantation. On your child.

I guess by now you must have guessed that this is very expensive, they require payment in cash up front, and that there are no refunds if it doesn’t work. If your previously healthy, though autistic, child gets some sort of side effect, adverse effect or worse from the treatment, there’s nobody to sue, and I couldn’t find an address on the website. The only person you actually meet is the person in Asia. Will they still be there, with that name, when you contact the embassy?

I’m not done. I looked at the brochure I had been given, and read it carefully. There were lots of grammatical errors. This is an ominous sign for me. If I give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they just don’t have anyone really fluent in English, that would still make me concerned that if you have a question, if something goes wrong, who in the company can you talk to?

I looked at every page in their website, which was entirely in English, riddled with language errors. There was a photograph of Fetal Cell Technologies--gloves a worker in their manufacturing facility, wearing protective equipment. But no gloves. This tells me that the protective outfit was to protect him or her, not prevent contamination of the product.

Another page in the document bragged about the medical advisors of the company. In most biotech companies, these are very impressive people who have little to do with the company, but lend their names in return for stock or money or both. The company touts their involvement as a way to add scientific credibility to their presentations when trying to raise venture capital. This particular group was different than others I had seen or been involved with. None, zero, were scientists or researchers or physicians in this or related fields. Nobody even claimed that their degree in naturopathic medicine gave them any expertise in stem cells, xenotransplantation, or autism or any of the other diseases their company claimed to treat by this method. One of their board members, with MD and PhD degrees, was quite clear in noting that these degrees were awarded “by thesis.” Think about that. MD degree: pay a fee, write a paper. No anatomy course, no patient contact, no classes of any kind. This is a guy that wants a lot of your money to put rabbit cells inside your child someplace in Asia by somebody you will never see again.

At the center of this company isn’t stem cells, autism, or science. It’s money. So I will finish this post with this note, and I’m embarrassed to mention it. How much do I get paid for spending 5 or 6 hours researching a treatment for your child? I do it because I have to. Would your other practitioner do the same? For the same payment?

This is part of the email I wrote back.
With so many 'alternative' treatments, I usually say that it's OK to try it if it's safe and won't hurt the kid.  With this, I am very scared that a courier delivers some product--who knows what, rabbit cells?  contamination?--to a practitioner in Asia somewhere who somehow gets it into your unconsenting child, and then everybody walks away after they get paid.  You couldn't even sue them if something bad happened, and certainly couldn't get your money back.  What about the child?  How will he feel--assuming that he did OK with the rabbit cells--if he 'fails' this treatment?  Won't he feel like he let you down?  Won't he feel like there's something wrong with him in your eyes?  Will rabbit cells make that better?  So, in this case, I'm going out on a limb.  Please don't do this. 
This is their procedure:
1) Patients consult with their respective medical doctors.
2) Doctor writes a brief medical summary or fills up the medical standardised questionnaire. Doctors can also make 1 attachment in "pdf" file or "jpeg" file comprising all relevant medical report if they think are of significant importance.
3) Doctor sent email to:- 
4)      ’s professional team analyzes the medical summary and/or medical questionnaire. A prescription of individualised preparation of different type of cells
is made if the patient is found to be an ideal candidate for Fetal Precursor Stem Cell Implantation. Doctor will also be informed of otherwise.
5) Doctor consults with the patient. A decision is made to take or not to take up the fetal stem cell Implantation by patient.  Doctor will then email to                  .com upon conformation of consent.
6) Full Payment made to                         (or Minimum: 50%) at least 17 days before carrying out the procedure on the pre-schedule.
7)  Proprietary Primary Cell Tissue Culture harvesting commence (time frame of 14 to 17 days preparation)
8) European Human Couriers transport down the cells from  Lab/Plant fromVienna airport to different parts of ASIA in special packaging while maintaining the                cells at room temperature
9) Individualised prepared cultured Fetal Precursor Stem Cells should be implanted on patient within 24 hours generally and not exceeding 72 hours from time of completion of culturing in our European Plant
10) Post Fetal Precursor Stem Cell Implantation progress report in 3.5 months to 4 months from Doctor to   coordinating team for evaluations as well as database updating.
This is a list of disease they can cure with this technique:
Ageing Disease
• Menopause
• Depression
• Impotence and loss of libido
• Memory loss
• Arteriosclerosis
• Impaired liver function
• Osteoarthrosis
• Immune deficiency
Autoimmune disease
• Scleroderma
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Dermatomyositis
• Systemic lupus erythematosus
• Polymyositis
• Sjogren syndrome
• Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
• Addison’s disease
• Chronic active hepatitis
• Primary biliary cirrhosis
• Glomerulonephritis
• Good pasture syndrome
• Myasthenia gravis
• Bronchial asthma
• Pemphigus
• Bullous pemphigoid
• Vitiligo
• Atopic dermatitis
• Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
• Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura
• Pernicious anemia
• Muscular dystrophy
• Neurofibromatosis
• Tuberous sclerosis
• Cornelia-de-Lange syndrome
• Gaucher disease
• Metachromatic leukodystrophy
• Fabry's disease
• Gangliosidoses
• Refsum disease
• Mitochondrial genetic disease
Genetic and Chromosomal Disorders
• Down Syndrome
• Noonan syndrome
• Turner syndrome
• Wolf syndrome
Hematological Diseases
• Thalassemias
• Sickle cell anemia
• Aplastic anemias
• Hereditary hemolytic anemias
• Thrombocytopenia
• Erythropoiesis disorder
• Primary hemachromatosis
• Werlhof disease
Immune System Disorders
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Disorder of non-specific immunity(e.g. defects of natural
killer (N.K) cells)
Kidney Diseases
• Genetic diseases of renal tubules
Cancer Treatment
• Enhanced weakened immune system
Cardiovascular Diseases
• Intractable arrhythmia
• Myocardial infarction
• Congestive heart failure
• Peripheral arterial disease
• Chronic cardiac disorder
• Arteriosclerotic vascular disease
• Migraine
Central Nervous System Diseases
• Neurodegenerative disease
• Parkinson’s disease
• Demyelinisation diseases
• Old/new spinal cord injuries
• Apallic syndrome
• Encephalitis
• Locked-in-syndrome
• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
• Friedreich’s ataxia
• Werdnig-Hoffman disease
• Duchenne & Becker muscular dystrophies
• Dementia
Chromosomal Diseases
• Down syndrome
• Noonan syndrome
• Turner syndrome
• Wolf syndrome
Digestive System Diseases
• Atrophic gastritis
• Chronic pancreatitis
• Malabsorption syndrome
• Crohn’s disease
• Ulcerative colitis
• Peptic ulcer
Endocrine Diseases
• Diabetes mellitus
• Vasculopathy
• Adrenocortical hormonal insufficiency
• Premature menopause
• Retarded puberty
• Female infertility
• Imbalance state of autonomous nervous system
• Endometriosis
• Female infertility
• Uterine myomas
• Habitual abortion of adrenal atiology
• Parathyroid insufficiency
• Hypothyroidism
Genetic Diseases
• Wilson's disease
• Nephrotic syndrome
• Glomerular disease
Liver Disease
• Liver cirrhosis
• Chronic hepatitis
• Crigler-Najjar syndrome
• PrimaryBiliary cirrhosis
• Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
• Hepatorenal syndrome
Locomotor System Disease
• Non-healing fractures
• Osteoarthrosis
• Aseptic necroses
• Chronic osteomyelitis
• Osteogenesis imperfecta
• Achondroplasia
• Marfan syndrome
• Arthrogryposis multiplex
• Chronic osteomyelitis
• Chronic arthritis
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Osteoporosis
Lung Diseases
• Bronchial asthma
• Pulmonary fibrosis
• Emphysema
Metabolic Diseases
• Atherosclerosis
• Lipoprotein metabolism
• A-β-lipoproteinemia
Neonatal & Perinatal Diseases
• Cerebral palsy
• Inborn errors of metabolism
Skin Diseases
• Psoriasis
• Chronic eczemas
• Deep burns
• Acne vulgaris
• Ulcus cruris
• Various eczemas
• Sarcoid Darier-Roussy
• Hereditary keratosis
• Palmaris et plantaris
• Chronic lichen
• Scleroderma
• Vitiligo
• Frostbite of big toes
• Alopecia areata
Radiation Injuries
e.g Post radiation ulcers

Addendum, April 20, 2010.  Just a few days after posting this, and completely by coincidence (as if 60 Minutes coordinates their schedule with mine), a substantial portion of 60 Minutes was devoted to just such a stem-cell scam.  The one they investigated had recently treated a child for autism.  This is a link to part 1 of the segment.  This is a link to part 2 of the segment.

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