In the last few years, more than 900 private stem cell clinics have opened in the US. They claim stem cells will cure everything from arthritis to macular degeneration to autism to erectile dysfunction. The FDA says many of those claims are just not true, and none of the clinics have its approval.
Norman Wohlken's osteoarthritis makes walking painful. He read an ad for a stem cell clinic and signed up.
"If you're desperate, you're in pain. But there is hope for a cure, then you're probably going to try it," said Wohlken.
He paid $1,400 to have cells extracted, spun in a centrifuge, and reinjected.
"The results were negligible, no improvement. In fact, worse," said Wohlken.
Doctor Chuck Murry has worked on regenerating heart muscle with stem cells for 20 years. He says some private clinics are taking people's money and giving them unproven treatments that could in fact be harmful.
"Let's gather some data and let's see. Here's standard of care. Is it better, same, or worse? It's not that hard, and that's not being done. They skipped all that hard work in the middle," said Chuck Murry, MD, PhD, Director, Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at UW Medicine.
The FDA is cracking down, notifying clinics like this one in Florida that stem cell procedures must be approved as clinical trials.
"I think the FDA waited too long to start and so this blew up on them. Now there's 900 or so of these clinics around the country right now," said Dr. Murry.
Dr. Murry says stem cells offer great hope, but cautions folks not to risk trying them before they're thoroughly researched.
Right now, the only stem cell treatments approved by the FDA are those for the treatment of certain cancers and disorders of the blood and immune system. The FDA says people need to ask stem cell clinics if they are part of the few clinical trials that are FDA approved.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.