ATLANTA - Scientists call stem cell therapy one of the most promising fields of medicine, and doctors have high hopes of regenerating damaged tissue and treating diseases and conditions that are untreatable today.
But, government regulators warn some companies are cashing in on those lofty dreams selling unproven and expensive treatments.
Our FOX 5 Senior Reporter Dale Russell has this report.
Step right up and sign on the dotted line. Soon you'll hear about the wonders of amniotic stem cell therapy at this Superior Healthcare Group seminar.
Inside a small conference room, a handful of people - some in pain - wait for answers. While waiting, a slide show warned no audio or video recording allowed.
And, our undercover I-Team was there to hear the stem cell sales pitch of a doctor listed on the Superior Healthcare Group web site: Dr. Atlee Wampler.
Dr. Wampler, a chiropractor, vowed live stem cells can help reverse osteoarthritis, some heart and lung disease, sometimes even Parkinsons and cancer.
He said young stem cells are the best. He told the potential patients Superior Healthcare Group uses live stem cells taken from a donor mother's amniotic fluid during childbirth and that it will regenerate tissue and organs.
Did we hear that right?
Afterwards we asked him point blank.
Dale: You said you were using live stem cells in injections into patients?
Wampler: The type of stem cells that we use, yes.
All for $5,600 an injection. Insurance doesn't cover it.
But there is a big problem with the live stem cell treatment he promises according to two local doctors who perform stem cell treatments.
“There are no living stem cells in these (amniotic) products,” says Dr. Robby Bowers.
Orthopedic Doctors Robby Bowers of Emory Healthcare and Chris Williams of Interventional Orthopedics of Atlanta are critics of the promises made by Superior Healthcare about their off-the-shelf live amniotic stem cell treatments. They believe in stem cell therapy, but they use an FDA allowed procedure that takes stem cells from a patient's own body and injects them back into that same patient to treat pain.
Both are members of a stem cell Ethics Consortium, warning consumers about fraudulent stem cell treatments.
They say independent nonprofit testing of several amniotic products, like ones used by Superior Health Care, shows the products don't contain live stem cells.
“It's infuriating from a medical standpoint because you are misleading patients,” says Dr. Bowers.
As for all those claims about regenerating joints and spines, tissue and organs.
“I consider it the biggest scam in the 20th century in the medical community at this time,” says Dr. Williams.
Though Both doctors say the so-called stem cell products don't actually contain live stem cells, it does contain some growth factors that can help with a patient's pain.
But, there is one more problem. The FDA has strict rules about the use of live stem cells and if those off the shelf products did contain live stem cells - both doctors say the FDA would consider that product to be a drug and would require extensive clinical testing before it could be used on patients.
“Number one, they don't have live cells. And number two, if they did have live cells, then they would not be FDA compliant or FDA approved,” says Dr. Bowers.
And though Dr. Wampler touted amniotic stem cell therapy during the seminar, and Superior HealthCare Group handed out a flyer praising its Amniotic Stem Cell Therapy at an earlier seminar, Superior Healthcare Group wrote us later to say "the amniotic tissue products are not where the stem cells are derived."
Cheryl Armstrong attended one of Superior Healthcare Group's free seminars. She agreed to pay $17,980 for a 2-part procedure to treat back and hip pain. She signed a Human Amniotic Fluid consent form for "stem cell injections." Later, she was supposed to get additional stem cell injections - this time - from her own bone marrow.
“I think they're relying on the hoopla they do at the seminars. They get people who are really desperately hurting and in pain. And, they're looking for hope to fix it,” says Armstrong.
After multiple amniotic fluid injections in her back she complained in writing to the FDA that she suffered from "burning and tingling in my hands"
The FDA told her it has not approved any stem cell based products "for the treatment of back pain." The FDA list for approved stem cell products does not include the amniotic fluid Cheryl Armstrong received.
“They're taking advantage of people that they're hurting people and they're lining their pockets full of money,” says Ms. Armstrong.
She was unhappy with the first amniotic treatment and canceled the bone marrow treatment. She demanded her money back.
Superior Healthcare wrote her lawyer that she got an injection of "amniotic growth factors" to prepare the area for a later bone marrow stem cell procedure.
The clinic doctor wrote "not receiving the second phase of therapy certainly can affect outcomes." They refunded $2900 and waved the rest of what she owed.
For her, she says the injections didn't help her pain; all she got was a broken promise.
“I haven't noticed anything different. The only I've noticed is the side effects and they're horrible,” says Armstrong.
Are you thinking about stem cell treatments for a problem? Here are some questions one company has published for consumers.