Stem cells cure mankind's most devastating diseases!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 7:50 PM Bookmark and Share
A friend of mine recently brought my attention to the website for Medra Inc., ran by one William C. Rader, M.D. To sum it all up - the whole thing smells pretty darn fishy...

So what type of medical services does Medra provide?? How about human fetal stem cell treatment for, as stated on Medra's website: "many of mankind's most devastating diseases." What are those disease? The rest of the site suggests they include a menagerie of neurological diseases, autoimmune diseases, Down's Syndrome, arthritis, chronic pain, and others.

With a list like that, you might be wondering what exactly is this amazing new stem cell treatment? Well, nobody outside of Medra Inc. seems to know. According to this L.A. Times article, Dr. Rader "said he has not published anything about his therapy because that would open him to attack from a 'conspiracy' of scientists, government authorities, pharmaceutical companies and abortion opponents."

Er, wait a second. So, he's discovered a way to treat "many of mankind's most devastating diseases", but he can't tell even his own peers about how they might use the treatment to save countless other human lives? Hmmm... something seems just a little bit really strange here!

According to his website, this fetal stem cell treatment is
A medical procedure whereby Human Fetal Stem Cells are transplanted into a patient. These cellular building blocks are usually administered intravenously and subcutaneously (under the skin). It is a painless procedure, which takes place in approximately one hour, and has no negative side effects.
Wow! No negative side effects!? Now pretty much all of my BS detectors are going off! Is this guy for real!?! Don't get me wrong - I think stem cell research holds great potential for advancing both medicine and many areas of biology, but the treatment offered here seems too good to be true.

Unfortunately, Medra Inc. is for real - in fact, $25,000+ for real. Oh, and you also have to travel to one of Dr. Rader's out-of-country clinics in the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, or the Ukraine to get this mysterious treatment. Seems completely legit, right? Riiiiight.

So, with my suspicions flying off the charts and no available scientific evidence to turn to in order to evaluate these claims, what's left to do?? How else might we evaluate his claims of curing all these ailments? Even if we could hear each and every patient's story, we'd still be hard pressed to see through any placebo effects. But what we can do is take a closer look and see if there's at least some anecdotal evidence consistent with his claims. This by no means proves anything, but if Medra Inc. can't even provide some compelling anecdotal evidence, we can feel comfortable looking elsewhere for medical treatment.

So, lets start with the obvious - his front page "success stories." Lets begin with a video about Hannah from Medra's own website:


Adorable kid, horrible disease, and a heart wrenching video with a wonderful outcome - the stem cell treatment has cured her! Right? I mean, that's what the video suggests, and we should trust Medra, Inc. to be honest with us, right? Surely t would get taken down if she were still sick, right? Wrong.

Fortunately, her mother keeps a web journal with tons of details. You can read about her last treatment in March, 2009, back to what appears to be the first treatment in June, 2007, and other details back through October, 2006. I don't have the time to do it myself, but it would worth trying to piece together a time-line of her treatments and symptoms over this period - various drugs at various dosages, IVIG treatments, the stem cell procedures in question - all seem to have been at play at some point during the past couple of years. Indeed, such a history could be just the sort of thing that doctor could infer quite a bit from, were we actually shopping around for this sort of medical treatment.

In any case, as you can see from the 2009 entries, Hannah's struggles are not over. Returning to our original intent for dredging through all this information - can we infer anything about Medra's front-page success story? Well, for starters, it isn't at all the wonderful success that the video lead us to believe. Could the treatment have helped her? Perhaps, although she was also receiving multiple other forms of treatment over the past couple of years that might also be responsible for any improvements. Heck, for all we know trips to the Dominican Republic alone may have brought about changes in her symptoms! Who knows!?

While we can't say much conclusively about Dr. Rader's claims, we can say that Medra, Inc. looks to have pulled in at least $20,000 x 1,500 = $30,000,000 from the his patients' families for what appears to be, at best, only moderately effective treatment. So is this the quintessential case of the brilliant doctor who holds the key to curing mankind's most devastating diseases, or is Medra Inc. just a modern-day snake-oil salesmen? Unfortunately, we don't have the evidence to really answer that question.

Until I see some real evidence supporting Medra's claims - I for one won't be flying any of my family members down to the Dominican Republic any time soon.

Links to more information:

  1. Barrett, S. The Shady Side of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy. Quackwatch, February 17, 2009.
  2. Wikipedia entry for William C. Rader.
  3. Ripoff Report #466029 and the associated web journal mentioned above.

These look interesting, but I haven't read them yet:
  1. Baker, Monya. 2005. Stem cell therapy or snake oil? Nature Biotechnology 23. doi:10.1038/nbt1205-1467
  2. Enserink, Martin . 2006. Selling the Stem Cell Dream. Science, 313(5784). doi:10.1126/science.313.5784.160
  3. Other articles through google scholar.

2 comments:

Posted by: Kristen and Travis | 7/23/2009 2:21 AM

Hey Paul-

I had to leave a comment. I agree that the story from the website you post is quite fishy. But I would just like to say, it isn't that stem cell research is a dead-end, but this company is selling crap to people that are looking for hope.

There have been promising advances in stem cell research, in controlled, peer-reviewed studies, and clinical trials. Just as an example, there is a stem cell trial for MS being undertaken in the UK right now. They have recently published good preliminary results, and are getting ready to go on to confirm there results in a larger patient set. I am including a web posting about it, but there is also an article in Nature.

http://www.stemcellcommunity.org/metadot/index.pl?id=2984

There can be hope, but don't buy the snake oil :)

Posted by: Paul | 5/13/2010 9:26 PM

Original Date: 7/23/2009 10:05 AM
Hey Kristen,

Thanks for the comment - I in no way intended to suggest stem cell research is a dead-end and have made a small edit to the post to make that more clear. Thanks! :)

Positive trends in public opinion polls suggests some awareness of the potential benefits of stem cell research. That recognition combined with desperation and a lack of expertise seems to me to have a lot to do with why some people buy into these sorts of expensive and unproven treatments. It's easy to see how folks could drop tens of thousands of dollars just to see if it might work.

At any rate, as far as snake oil goes, it isn't all bad ;)

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=snake-oil-salesmen-knew-something

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