Last week, I wrote about the medical ethics storm surrounding
bioethicist Glenn McGee, who took a job with Celltex Therapeutics in
Houston, a controversial new company that is apparently marketing
unlicensed stem cells therapies.
The most famous patient associated with Celltex is Texas Gov.
Rick Perry, who reportedly received stem cell injections for back
pain from a doctor associated with the company and who has supported
legislation that would make it easier for companies like Celltex to
operate in his state.
Celltex's owner, David Eller, a former Dupont executive and
chairman of the Board of Regents at Texas A&M University, has been a
major donor to Perry's political campaigns.
As I noted last week, two University of Minnesota bioethicists,
Leigh Turner and Dr. Carl Elliott, have been among the most vocal
critics of both McGee and Celltex.
Well, this week, this bizarre, tangled and fast-moving story has
taken some surprising -- and troubling -- turns.
On Wednesday, the journal Nature reported more details about how
Celltex "is involved in the clinical use of [stem] cells on US soil,
which the FDA has viewed as illegal in other cases." Indeed,
reporter David Cyranoski notes that one Celltex patient has been
blogging about the stem-cell treatments she has been receiving from
the company for multiple sclerosis. Cyranoski was unable to reach
that patient, but he did speak with Dr. Jamshid Lofti, the Houston
neurologist who injected the cells into the woman. He acknowledged
that the injections had been made -- and that both he and Celltex
had charged the patient for them. (Lofti said he gets $500 per
injection and that Celltex charges the patient $7,000 per 200
As Cyranski notes, other stem-cell scientists say such activities
by Celltex are highly questionable:
Because we know so little about mesenchymal stem cells and
whether they are indeed effective for treating any condition, I'd be
very wary of how they are being infused into patients, and certainly
concerned if practitioners are charging patients for medical
procedures that haven't been proven to work and could in fact be
harmful," says George Daley, director of the Stem Cell
Transplantation Program at Harvard Medical School in Boston,
Massachusetts, who helped the ISSCR to draft its guidelines. In the
opinion of Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad
Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the
University of California, San Francisco, "the very nature of
Celltex's business plan, which involves charging patients
considerable fees for so-called treatments for diseases and
disorders for which there is no good clinical evidence of efficacy,
crosses an ethical line. …