A professor of pathology and a midwife have been arrested in the USA, charged with illegally supplying stem cells for unauthorised use.
They are suspected of belonging to a team of at least four people who sold untested stem cell 'cures' to cancer patients and people with neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. It is alleged that the team made more than $1.5 million since starting the scheme in March 2007.
Vincent Dammai, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, USA was arrested on 27 December 2011. Two other men, Francisco Morales of Brownsville, Texas, and midwife Alberto Ramon, of Del Rio, Texas, were arrested the same week. A fourth man, Lawrence Stowe of Dallas, Texas, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.
An FBI report claims that Ramon, the midwife, obtained umbilical cord blood during births he supervised. He is alleged to have sold the blood to an Arizona-based company, Global Laboratories, whose owner, Fredda Branyon, was convicted last August for selling unauthorised stem cell products (reported in BioNews 622 - US lab owner pleads guilty to selling stem cells).
Global Laboratories then sent the tissue to Professor Dammai, who, it is alleged, used his university facilities to derive the stem cells. The FBI suspects that Stowe, who is still at large and considered a fugitive, then sold fake stem cell treatments through several front companies. Morales – who allegedly falsely claimed to be a registered as a physician in the US - then performed the unlicensed procedures at a clinic in Mexico.
The story was originally broken on an edition of CBS News programme, 60 Minutes, which followed several patients who had been approached by Stowe. One of the ALS patients, Michael Martin, lost more than $47,000 paying for a false 'cure' before working undercover to help the programme. His recordings were used in the FBI investigation and helped bring about the arrests.
According to the FBI report, all the men would face imprisonment should they eventually be convicted.