On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a horrifying exposé of a stem-cell scam. Reporter Scott Pelley made it clear that his team was not just using deception and hidden cameras to incriminate one particular con man (Dan Ecklund, pictured). This was intended as an example, one of "hundreds of credible-looking websites offering stem-cell cures at overseas clinics." Pelley stressed that "there is no stem cell miracle today" and interviewed Duke professor Dr Joanne Kurtzberg, who contradicted numerous claims of cures while holding out hope for efficacy in perhaps ten years.
Ecklund lost his license to practice medicine in Alabama for a variety of offenses, including providing recreational drugs to and having sex with underage patients. He's now based in Ecuador but was lured to Florida, where hidden cameras filmed him.
In a follow-up on Monday, Pelley called the scams "monstrous" and explained that 60 Minutes has been on this story for two years. Back in April 2010, they exposed a similar scam, using similar methods. That program finally led to arrests on December 27, 2011; the indictment alleges that the defendants made more than $1.5 million from patients.
Almost as shocking as the revelations in the program are the comments posted at the CBS website. Some are supportive, but many accuse the program of being sensationalist, and in the pocket of Big Pharma. Several claim to report successful stem cell treatments, and some even accuse Dr. Kurtzberg of misrepresenting the science in order to make profits herself.
The hype about stem-cell cures that was widely promoted for years (remember the 2004 presidential election when John Edwards declared that they would make "people like Christopher Reeve" walk again?) seems to have metastasized into a scandal no responsible scientist would ever have intended or expected. But clearly, in addition to continuing research, a lot of educational work remains to be done. Kudos to the team at 60 Minutes for their efforts.
Previously on Biopolitical Times: