Prosecutors say Stamina treatment hurt, not helped, patients

Charges of criminal association may be filed in medical case

(ANSA) - Turin, April 23 - Not only was a discredited stem-cell treatment useless, investigations found that it actually hurt a number of patients, prosecutors said Wednesday as they concluded a probe of 20 suspects involved in the Stamina treatment. That includes Davide Vannoni, founder of the Stamina Foundation, who may face indictment in the case now that prosecutors have finished a lengthy probe. Charges could include criminal association to commit aggravated fraud and administration of dangerous drugs, according to prosecutors whose probe examined the treatment of slightly more than 100 patients and found "adverse reactions" in some cases. Another 37 donors of stem cells used in the controversial treatment, rejected by the health ministry, were examined during the investigation. According to prosecutors, Vannoni and other suspects "falsely pretended" to patients and their families that there was "high chance" of recovery from serious illness if they agreed to the Stamina treatment. Vannoni, a former psychology lecturer who was indicted earlier this year for alleged attempted fraud against the Piedmont Region, had also tried to discredit health officials and the national health system while raising social tension, according to prosecutors. Earlier this month, hospitals in Italy that used the discredited stem-cell treatment announced they had suspended the program. That followed announcements last fall by Italy's health ministry that the Stamina Foundation - the nonprofit foundation that developed the treatment - would not be allowed to test it on humans. The foundation was also stripped of its non-profit status after a study found its treatment was "ignorant of stem-cell biology". Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said she was "not surprised" by the outcome of the investigation. "It is a story that had Italians holding their breath with many concerns and anxieties," she said. "It is important that (the findings) come out clearly, because there are victims, the thousands of people who believed they could have a cure," she said. The Stamina treatment involves extracting bone-marrow stem cells from a patient, turning them into neurons by exposing them to retinoic acid for two hours, and injecting them back into the patient. Supporters of the therapy thought it could be a cure for fatal degenerative nerve diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy, while detractors said it was devoid of scientific merit. A panel of experts appointed by Italy's health ministry said in January it found the therapy seriously lacking in both premise and practice. Their report cited "serious imperfections and omissions in the Stamina protocol, including conceptual errors and an apparent ignorance of stem-cell biology". The Stamina Foundation had asked for 500,000 euros of funding to develop a stem-cell laboratory, a request that earlier prosecutors had argued was fraudulent because the efficacy of the treatment has been "completely disproved".

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Prosecutors say Stamina treatment hurt, not helped, patients

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