Italian prosecutors are investigating whether discredited stem-cell entrepreneur Davide Vannoni is continuing to offer his unproven therapies in eastern Europe.
Vannoni, who has no formal scientific training, formerly headed the private Stamina Foundation in Turin, Italy, which offered stem-cell therapies for neurodegenerative disorders. Beginning in 2006, he used the 'Stamina Method' to extract stem cells from bone marrow, modify them, and then inject them back into the patient. There was no established evidence for either the safety or efficacy of this technique.
Vannoni has faced multiple investigations over the years, including his attempt to launch a controversial, government-funded clinical trial in 2013. In March 2015, Vannoni was convicted for fraud and conspiracy related to his unproven methods and was required to halt all future stem-cell therapies, according to a plea bargain that suspended his 22-month sentence.
Italian media previously reported that several patients had claimed that Vannoni was offering his stem-cell treatments in Tbilisli, Georgia. On October 24, a 52-year-old man, Andrea Zicchieri, appeared on Italian television claiming that Vannoni was present during a €18,000 cycle of three stem-cell treatments that took place in Tbilisli.
While the ban on performing the treatment seems to imply a ban whether in Italy or abroad, according to an anonymous Italian legal expert who spoke to Nature, the plea bargain is somewhat ambiguous and may not have explicitly condemned further practice abroad.
'It is really disappointing that science has not been able to put an end to this,' former Italian Health Authority Director-General Luca Pani told Nature. 'A patient is a patient wherever they are treated, and I worry for them and their families.'
While many scientists fought to halt Vannoni's treatments, arguing that they were dangerous and pseudoscientific, some patient groups continued to support Vannoni, believing that patients have a right to treatments that may be highly experimental.
Ziccheri, despite knowing that the treatments were controversial, still pursued them for his motor neurone disease: 'Even if there was only one percent chance of hope, I wanted to take that chance,' he said to Nature.
The investigation of Vannoni's potential activity in Europe is being carried out by public prosecutors from Turin. Zicchieri has assisted by providing evidence to the police.