04 October 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 578
A doctor has been struck off by the General Medical Council (GMC) for exploiting vulnerable patients by administering 'pointless' and 'unjustified' stem cell treatments.
Dr Robert Trossel, a Dutch-trained doctor registered with the GMC, practised from clinics in London and Rotterdam. At his Rotterdam clinic he saw patients from the UK affected by multiple sclerosis (MS), offering treatments at times costing in excess of £10,000.
Last April, the GMC ruled that Dr Trossel had offered patients treatments using stem cells unfit for human use. It heard how Dr Trossel had entered into a licensing agreement with a firm which later became Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT), to provide stem cell treatments. ACT's South African owners were then investigated by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation for stem cell fraud and are still undergoing extradition proceedings. A BBC Newsnight investigation revealed how cells used by Dr Trossel were acquired by ACT from a US firm which were only intended for use in research and not in humans.
Yesterday's panel considered the issue of misconduct and Dr Trossel's fitness to practice, ruling that he had breached good practice guidelines by exaggerating the benefits of treatment, success rates and had exploited his patients. In the hearings, the GMC was told how despite not having a background in neurology or haematology, nor being an expert in stem cells, Dr Trossel had given patients stem cell injections.
Chairman of the fitness to practice panel, Professor Brian Gomes da Costa, told Dr Trossel that by offering 'unsubstantiated and exaggerated' claims he had 'abused [his] position of trust'. 'Your conduct has unquestionably done lasting harm, if not physically, then mentally and financially, to these patients and also to their families and supporters', he said.
Dr Trossel admitted he been 'too enthusiastic' and said he had stopped offering using stem cell injections upon learning about the nature of the cells used. 'I would like to take the opportunity to say how sorry I am for any distress caused to my patients during this time', he said after the ruling. 'During my career as a doctor, I have always practised with the objective of achieving the very best for my patients'. Although the panel said there was little evidence to suggest the treatments alleviated the symptoms of MS, it ruled Dr Trossel did believe in his claims and had not acted dishonestly.
The cost of the treatments has not been refunded, the GMC heard, with many of the patients having raised money through family or fund-raising events. Dr Trossel now faces the prospect of legal action from his patients seeking compensation. 'We are actively investigating the pursuit of legal proceedings against him to right the wrongs caused to these vulnerable people', said Jill Paterson, a solicitor at law firm Leigh Day & Co.