MEDICAL TREATMENT Stem cells and hopes lure many abroad
Many foreign clinics advertise varying claims of success with stem-cell therapy.
MALIBU, Calif. -- Anne Dumphy was dying and believed Malibu physician William Rader was her last hope for a cure.
But she didn't find a cure -- just an improved immune system.
Her niece said Dr. Rader's Dominican Republic clinic charged Dumphy $30,000 for stem-cell treatments that helped fight off colds but not the fatal disease that ended her life.
"Dr. Rader has a responsibility to tell people that is all they'll get," said the niece, Regina Rear. "He is taking advantage of the most desperate of people."
Dr. Rader declined to comment, but his overseas operation is one of several outside the United States marketing and selling stem-cell therapies using aborted fetuses, umbilical cord blood or a patient's own stem cells.
From Ukraine to Tijuana -- where another California doctor refers patients -- these foreign clinics advertise varying claims of success, ranging from making the blind see to erasing the signs of aging.
Scientists say these stem-cell entrepreneurs, who use the Internet and word of mouth to market their therapies, are selling desperately ill patients treatments that are costly, unproven and potentially risky.
"They have no scientific credibility. They don't even aspire to acquire scientific credibility," said Evan Snyder, a leading stem-cell researcher.
Some patients said the treatments produced remarkable improvements in their health. Without independent verification, scientists say they don't know if the patients' health improved or the patients enjoyed a "placebo effect" that made them feel better.
U.S. regulators monitor the effectiveness of treatments in this country but said they can't vouch for the foreign therapies because they have no control over them.
Snyder and other supporters of California's newly created stem-cell research program believe the program could help eliminate such "fringe science" by establishing clear-cut guidelines for state-funded scientific studies.
They expect implementation of Proposition 71, the stem-cell initiative Californians approved Nov. 2, to make desperately ill patients and their families more aware of what constitutes a legitimate human trial.
"The field will advance, and it will become very clear who are the legitimate scientists and who are not," Snyder said.
Rear, the niece of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patient who received treatments at Rader's clinic, said that the doctor, "for Anne, was hope. Even though some of us in the family felt it was not the thing to do, no one was willing to take away her hope."