The Ubiquitous Stem Cell Sales Pitch

November 12, 2018

Do you suffer from [insert disease/condition/injury here]? Attend our seminar to learn how stem cell therapy is helping people just like you!

These advertisements increasingly appear on the internet or in multi-page print ads, and they’re now in television and radio spots too. These seminars are the latest attempts by rogue stem cell clinics to promote their products, which are untested and have little, if any, rigorous scientific support.

To understand how clinics present and promote their stem cell-based products, we attended a seminar held at a local hotel in the U.S. Midwest. Following are some of the tactics we observed.

The Clinic Pitch

We quickly saw that the seminars are designed to appeal to those struggling with a chronic health condition with promotional brochures and emotional patient testimonials playing on large screen televisions. The opening presentation by a paid spokesman is designed to convey that they’re selling a new approach; words like “cutting-edge,” “revolutionary,” “scientifically-proven,” and “regenerative medicine” are liberally used throughout the presentation. Those looking for a solution to a chronic health issue can easily get the false sense that these treatments are special, and that they will work.

The seminar we attended was meant to address joint pain from osteoarthritis or orthopedic issues, however the message was that stem cells have broader, nearly unlimited therapeutic potential. In numerous video testimonials, middle-aged men and women mentioned how, following a stem cell injection for joint pain, their pain was lessened, their skin “glowed,” and they had more energy. Several patients had multiple ailments and mentioned improvement in diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) symptoms. Ultimately, attendees are led to believe that stem cells have magical qualities and can treat nearly anything if given the time and enough injections. The clinic doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good story or closing a sale.

Moving to Close the Sale

The presentation generalized and distorted the current state of stem cell science, overpromising on what might work to treat disease. There were no medical professionals present, and the doctor listed on the clinics’ business cards was a chiropractor — not a specialist in the areas promoted such as diabetes and COPD. Afterward, rather than fielding questions from the audience, a handout was provided as a learning tool to help reinforce the misguided ‘facts’ presented by the speaker. To close the sale, attendees were offered a one-time opportunity, only available that day, for a consultation with a chiropractor. The fee, a discounted rate of $79 USD, would not include the $3715 required to receive one stem cell “treatment.” Hurry, appointments are filling up fast!

At best, the scientific and medical content of the seminar demonstrated the naiveite of the clinic and its medical team about stem cells and how they work; at worst, it deliberately misled attendees.

One last emotional appeal was made in a split-screen video of two older men, one who had received a “therapy” and one who did not. The first man was happy and leading an active life, in contrast with the man who didn’t receive a stem cell product, who lived an unhappy, sedentary life and died. The video closed with the words “it’s time to decide.”

How to Decide?

For those in pain and/or suffering from life-altering disease or injury, there is a strong desire to believe that a cure is imminent, and to look to medical science to provide relief. Several of the seminar attendees failed to find that relief through standard clinical care approaches – the diagnosis, hours of physical therapy, medication or pain management procedures, and surgery so they are looking for something different.

Stem cell research is making very real advances, but for many diseases and conditions, there are currently no effective treatments. Rogue stem cell clinics, peddling unproven, untested, and often unknown ‘treatments,’ do a disservice to medical science and distort the public’s perception of stem cell research and its potential for real biomedical breakthroughs. They also exploit the hope and motivation of the very patients they claim they want to help.

To learn more about the potential of stem cell treatments, check out Stem Cell Treatments: What to Ask.