"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Clinics sell unproven stem cell treatment for long COVID

October 26, 2023 – Companies marketing expensive and unproven stem cell therapies are targeting patients with long-COVID, an often debilitating condition for which there are currently no proven treatment options, in line with a report released today.

Researchers identified Thirty-eight direct sales firms claim to sell stem cell therapies to stop and treat the virus – 36 of which also claim to treat post-COVID syndrome.

“There is an important opportunity here for regulators to understand that there are still a number of companies making problematic advertising claims,” said Dr. Leigh Turner, lead writer of a study on the subject and professor of bioethics on the University of California, Irvine Department of Health, Society and Behavior. “I don’t think this will go away anytime soon. It has to be a high priority.”

Stem cells, sometimes called the body’s “master cells,” can create recent cell types – something no other cell within the body can do. And although they've the potential to repair and regenerate cells, these therapies will not be approved by regulatory authorities and will not be supported by convincing safety and effectiveness data.

The FDA issued a warning in 2019 against stem cell therapies to treat COVID-19.

Of the 60 clinics operated by these firms, 24 are within the United States and 22 are in Mexico. Additional clinics are positioned within the Cayman Islands, Guatemala, Malaysia, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

“It was interesting to me to what extent these were companies that were operating in the U.S. rather than in far away places,” Turner said.

According to the report, clinics charge between $2,950 and $25,000 for stem cell products.

Lots of individuals with long COVID Manage symptoms like brain fog, extreme fatigue, and severe headaches that last for months and even years. One in 10 people Anyone infected with the virus gets post-COVID syndrome. The severity of symptoms and lack of treatment make patients particularly vulnerable to false claims, he said Kristin Englund, MD, an infectious disease specialist who leads Cleveland Clinic's reCOVer clinic for long-term COVID patients.

Englund said several patients have asked about stem cell therapies, and he or she warned them that there could possibly be potential unwanted side effects, but they don't provide much, if any, profit. Companies often try to assert a medical profit without scientific evidence and without recognition from a regulator, she said.

“When you work with this population, you see how desperate they can be to get back to the life they had before COVID,” she said. “Some of the patients we treat have been suffering from these symptoms for three years. There is currently no consistent diagnosis and treatment and this is extremely frustrating for patients.”

Julia Moore Vogel, PhD, a computational biologist and researcher at Scripps Research, has seen this problem from each patient and scientist perspectives. Before he contracted the virus in July 2020, the 38-year-old was a long-distance runner. Now, after battling long COVID for 3 years, she counts her steps so she doesn't get too drained.

And while she has tried potentially low-risk therapies like supplements — which didn't work for her — she wouldn't use stem cell therapies on account of the shortage of solid research.

“I remember, of course, that stem cell therapies were a big area of ​​interest in school,” she said. “I would just need to see the data before I could feel confident trying it.”

Although the National Institutes of Health has launched several Clinical trials focused on the treatment of long COVIDAlthough the FDA has approved several clinical trials using stem cells for long-COVID, there continues to be much to study post-viral syndromes generally, said Dr. Michael R. Jordan, an infectious disease physician at Tufts University in Boston.

“There are a number of observational cohort studies and clinical trials underway to evaluate different treatments for long COVID,” he said. “Importantly, there is currently no proven treatment and patients are advised to work with licensed, qualified and experienced healthcare providers for symptom management.”