Men charged with fraud for marketing stem cells as miracle cures
Ongoing stem cell research has given hope to sufferers of terminal and chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, some have preyed upon these people by offering them false hope with purported miracle cures. Three men are in custody and a fourth is being sought by the FBI for their involvement in a scheme to market stem cells as miracle cures to these desperate people. The arrests have occurred over the past 10 days after two indictments were issued in November charging the four men with 39 counts of mail fraud and unlawfully manufacturing, distributing and selling stem cells and stem cell procedures not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the FBI, the men bilked more than $1.5 million from patients suffering from incurable diseases. One of the four men, Francisco Morales, 52, of Brownsville, Texas, is charged with falsely saying that he was a medical doctor who operated a clinic in Brownsville that specialized in using stem cells to treat incurable diseases. Another Texan, Alberto Ramon, 48, of Del Rio Texas was charged in a stem cell scheme. Ramon is a licensed midwife who prosecutors said obtained umbilical cord blood to create stem cells from his patients at a maternity-care clinic.
Another man, Vincent Dammai, 40, of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, was identified as a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina. The FBI said he used university facilities to create stem cells without obtaining permission from either the FDA or university officials.
A fourth man, Lawrence Stowe, 58, of Dallas, Texas remains at large and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. The indictment charges that Stowe, who sometimes referred to himself as Dr. Larry Stowe marketed, promoted, and sold stem cells for the treatment of several diseases through front companies. In 2010, the CBS News program "Sixty Minutes" profiled Stowe. In an interview, a patient suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; “Lou Gehrig’s Diease”) noted that Stowe told him that his stem cell therapy could reverse and cure the progressive and debilitating disease. There is no cure for ALS and there is no treatment that can reverse the symptoms. Most patients die from the disease within five years after diagnosis.
"The investigation identified a scheme whereby the suffering and hopes of victims in extreme medical needs were used and manipulated for personal profit," Cory Nelson, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio office said on December 31. He noted that Morales would meet people in the United States to sell them the procedures, then travel to Mexico to perform them.
One factor that increases the risk of seriously ill patients being taken in by unscrupulous individuals is that stem cell research is ongoing at respectable medical facilities throughout the U.S. For example the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA has made significant advances in stem cell research. Their programs include stem cell immune therapy of cancer and HIV, neurodegenerative disease and repair, diabetes, islet transplantation and other metabolic disorders, cardiac (heart) repair, genetic diseases with bone marrow and stem cell transplants, and musculo-skeletal repair and regeneration. Thus, in the near future, via stem cell research, it is possible that diabetes can be cured, paraplegics can regain the use of their legs, and patients with heart disease can regenerate a new, healthy heart.