Stem Cell Treatment Scams

Disclaimer (of sorts): I am a myeloma patient of now nearly 7 years’ standing and a stem cell transplant recipient. The reader may keep this in mind as I delve into a fascinating (for me at least) topic of one of the latest of the never-ending line of medical scams.

When I was younger as a kid, long before I became much of scientific rationalist, I would wonder how anyone could believe that this or that home remedy would cure the “heartbreak of psoriasis,” as the television commercials would trumpet. It was only three or so generations ago that we still had “Carter’s Little Liver Pills,” “Lydia Pinkham Pills,” Black’s Draught,” and a fair number of other nostrums of no scientific worth left over from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. My wife’s own great-grandfather used to peddle in the southern Appalachians of NC and VA a home remedy elixir good for almost anything that was, in reality, a flavored elixir of alcohol and laudanum (opium!).

I could go on and on.  And I will just a little more…One of my other favorites that did command some subscription among the rich and glitterati of the 1960’s and 1970’s, was the craze of Gerovital. This intrigued me because of a few goofy associative factors. First, it was made and dispensed in Rumania. I thought that contributed to its weird and exotic, and perhaps even dangerous factor, as one had to travel to clinics in a “Commie” country to obtain it. Second, it sounded like the all American and incredibly well known American iron elixir, “Geritol.” That was advertised constantly, and I thought it always hilarious that it was for “tired blood,” Back to Gerovital of Rumania. This held credence inexplicably for years. It was reputed to slow aging and movie stars, always a gullible and dumb crowd, flocked to clinics run by flacks in white coats with exotic Eastern European accents, always charging Big Bucks that only people “with more money than sense” as folk wisdom so aptly describes such doofuses, could afford. ‘If it costs a lot, it must be worth something.’ Just like penny stocks my father would always say.

Quack cures among the movie stars used to have a plethora of takers. The most famous and perhaps saddest one in my slightly lengthy memory was that of Steve McQueen. He developed abdominal cancer, either pancreatic or gastric, I am not sure which at the time of this writing. He headed down to Tijuan Mexico to the then famous clinic that utilized the then famous “natural” cure of “Laetril.” For those readers who are not familiar with this, Laetrile was some sort of extract of apricot pits of all things. It was reputed for a brief time in the 1960’s as a treatment for cancer and a number of persons went south of the border in a desperate search for medical aid when somewhat primitive chemotherapy for cancers failed. And of course Steve McQueen died within months of his treatment.

Contemporary medical scams are more flashy, have more trappings of science, but still do as scams have always done. Such fleecing operations typically cloak themselves in the scientific metaphors and well-known names of the times. The purveyors and installations are always called pretentious names such as “Institutes.” Beautiful people are the spokespersons or operator/heads of such. [Doesn’t sound different than most usual advertising does it…] The claims are just south of outrightly outrageous. Benefits point toward “breakthroughs,” and the near “miraculous,” that are “duplicated nowhere else,” [such as in replicative studies…]. Often seminars are offered in large metropolitan areas. Discounts of fees are offered in breathless haste to be redeemed. Testimonials are from nobodies. All of it sounds like sales outfits for beach condominium scams that by now most of us are wise to. Continue reading

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