First case of alleged stem-cell fraud enters US courts

The days of “stem-cell tourism” could be numbered. Six residents of Los Angeles, California, are suing South Korean company RNL Bio and associates in a Californian court for alleged fraud. They claim the company convinced them to travel to clinics in South Korea, China or Mexico to donate fat tissue and have stem cells from it re-administered to cure diseases and even reverse ageing.

Stem cells hold great medical promise, but only one treatment is licensed in the US and that is for a rare blood disorder. Others are experimental and it is illegal to offer them commercially. Yet some companies still tout stem-cell “cures” that are carried out outside the US. RNL Bio calls its fat-tissue stem cells “safe technologies” for treating various disorders.

There have been protests against these treatments for years, but this is the first civil lawsuit for damages, says Paul Knoepfler of the University of California at Davis. It “serves notice to the purveyors of unproven stem-cell treatments” that they may face litigation if they market in the US, says Bernard Siegel of the Genetics Policy Institute, a stem-cell watchdog in Palm Beach, Florida.

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First case of alleged stem-cell fraud enters US courts