For sale: Stem cell enhancers

Dietary supplement claims to boost circulating stem cells, but is it safe?

By | May 15, 2007

A California company is marketing the latest in dietary supplements, an extract from algae they claim will boost the number of circulating stem cells, easing disease and discomfort. Consumers have already spent millions on the "stem cell enhancer," but some stem cell researchers remain unconvinced the product even works -- and warn that the "enhancer" may trigger other problems, including cancer. "I would look at this with great, great, great skepticism," said William Frishman at the New York Medical College in Valhalla. "I strongly advise anybody not to take this drug" until more studies are done, said Thomas Eschenhagen, a professor at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. Eschenhagen told The Scientist the effect of the product does not appear drastic, based on information from the company. But whether it's safe, "we simply don't know." According to STEMTech HealthSciences, the product, StemEnhance, made from the blue-green algae Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, promises to "support your stem cells in maintaining proper organ and tissue functioning in your body." The product is marketed online and at least one distributor advertises with leaflets door-to-door, asking "What have your STEM CELLS done for you lately?" Online testimonials of StemEnhance claim a range of benefits, including reducing hot flashes and heartburn, easing withdrawal from methamphetamine addiction, and curing chronic back pain. In response to a The Scientist Blog about the product, one customer and distributor wrote the product cured knee and back pain, and discomfort from kidney cysts. "Since starting this product-I no longer have kidney or back pain, I personally can go hours without urinating which before I swear was at least once an hour and my knees don't hurt when I get up off the toilet." Others are less enthusiastic. The "skeptical guide to multilevel marketing" Web site MLM Watch calls StemTech's claims "dubious." On the Web site Wellness Clubs of America, dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyle, founder Dale Peterson questions the safety of ingesting potentially toxic algae, stating "People love magic pills, gimmicks & slick web sites, even when they may be hazardous to their health. I have to give Stem Enhance's creators credit -- not everyone could turn a potentially deadly pond scum into the cure-for-all-diseases." Anecdotally, there has been overwhelming evidence the product -- sold for approximately $1 per pill -- does wonders, Christian Drapeau, StemTech's Chief Science Officer, told The Scientist. In some cases, diabetics have ceased taking insulin, wheelchair-bound people with multiple sclerosis have walked, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients experienced improved cognitive function, he said. "It's pretty clear it is a natural process of healing." Drapeau estimated the company has sold 425,000 bottles -- approximately $60 each -- since November 2005, and is now selling roughly 50,000 bottles per month. The extract elevates circulating stem cells by the actions of two uncharacterized compounds, one that acts to stimulate release of cells from the bone marrow, and another that facilitates migration of the cells to tissues all over the body, said Drapeau. Drapeau said he has tested one of the compounds in humans, and it acts as a blocker of L-selectin, a cell adhesion molecule. Drapeau said the compounds are as yet unnamed. An article due for publication in Cardiovascular Revascularization Medicine suggests an extract from A. flos-aquae mobilizes CD34+ stem cells from the bone marrow, he added. The managing editor of the journal confirmed the paper is expected to publish this summer. This is a somewhat plausible mechanism, according to Wojtek Wojakowski at the Silesian School of Medicine in Katowice, Poland. An extract that acts as an L-selectin blocker could elevate circulating stem cells, which may "help with [cells] leaving the bone marrow," Wojakowski told The Scientist. "But this approach was not tested in clinical studies." The company Web site presents results from 15 volunteers, showing that cells in the blood labeled with CD34 antibody increased by about 25% within an hour after taking StemEnhance. But many stem cell researchers remain unconvinced. "At this point there's no clear-cut evidence that an increase of these stem cells is something good," Eschenhagen said. Scientists debate the role of circulating progenitor cells in healing injury, particularly regarding cardiovascular damage, he said, and have reached no consensus as to whether supplementing progenitor numbers improves tissue repair. "Basically I think that it's true that higher levels of endothelial progenitor cells have been associated with better long-term [health] outcomes," said Kreton Mavromatis at Emory University. But there is no causative study showing those cells are responsible for improved health, Mavromatis told The Scientist. And if the product does what it says, it may not be safe, according to Frishman. One of the risks of taking a stem cell enhancer is that it could activate dormant cancer cells, he told The Scientist. There are other stem cell enhancing drugs that target particular cell types, such as granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, which elevates white blood cells after chemotherapy. "Here [with StemEnhance] you're giving a general stem cell booster," Frishman said. "Some people might have occult malignancies and all of a sudden you're giving them a stem cell booster." Drapeau said he has not seen any evidence the product causes harm, and is hesitant to produce too much data saying it works, out of fear the US Food and Drug Administration will revoke its status as a dietary supplement -- where it's available to everyone sick and well -- and consider it a drug that requires a prescription. "We have not yet documented in a rigorous manner the health benefits [of StemEnhance] essentially because they are so obvious, and I am concerned if we get data showing the product is effective...we will be in a difficult position with the FDA," Drapeau said. Kerry Grens Links within this article: William Frishman ' Thomas Eschenhagen STEMTech HealthSciences A. McCook, "Selling stem cells door-to-door," The Scientist, May 8, 2007. SM Barrett, "StemTech's dubious claims," MLM Watch, November 26, 2005. ' Wellness Clubs of America Kneuer C et al., "Selectins--potential pharmacological targets?" Drug Discovery Today, 11:1034-40, 2006. Cardiovascular Revascularization Medicine Wojakowski W et al., "Mobilization of CD34/CXCR4+, CD34/CD117+, c-met+ stem cells, and mononuclear cells expressing early cardiac, muscle, and endothelial markers into peripheral blood in patients with acute myocardial infarction," Circulation, 16:3213-20, 2004. Bellucci R et al., Modulation of VLA-4 and L-selectin expression on normal CD34+ cells during mobilization with G-CSF," Bone Marrow Transplantation, 23:1-8, 1999. Zimmermann WH and Eschenhagen T, "Questioning the relevance of circulating cardiac progenitor cells in cardiac regeneration," Cardiovascular Research, 68:344-6, 2005 Laflamme MA and Murry CE, "Regenerating the heart," Nature Biotechnology, 23:845-56, 2005. K Chien, "Making a play at regrowing hearts," The Scientist, August 2006. Werner N et al., "Circulating endothelial progenitor cells and cardiovascular outcomes," New England Journal of Medicine, 353:999-1007, 2005. I. Oransky, "Trial of the heart," The Scientist, October 2006. Kreton Mavromatis


Avatar of: Tania Watts

Tania Watts

Posts: 1

August 5, 2007

The chemical basis for stem cell migration is explained in this video.\n\n\n\nIt may be of interest.\n\n
Avatar of: Steven M Hagedon

Steven M Hagedon

Posts: 1

August 21, 2007

I get upset when I read negative articles about Stem Enhance. I have been using it for about 6 months to 8 months. It has changed my life. I have a better Quality of life since starting it. I am restricted by the FDA from "making any false claims". To me they are not false they are real! What it has done for me and Those around me is amazing. It gives people hope that Dr. have written off. Dr. don't make money if you stop going to them. FDA is in the big Drug company's back pocket. They say if it isn't a drug it cant cure you. FDA approved? like that Hormone replacement they said was safe. You know the one the Dr. told all the middle age woman they had to take for hot flashes and bone loss. You know the one that caused the rate of breast cancer to go through the roof. But hey the Dr. and the Drug Company's Had a pretty good run they made millions thats what really matters. smh
Avatar of: Marilyn Patrick

Marilyn Patrick

Posts: 1

October 18, 2007

I am a big skeptic and it takes a lot to convince me of any product or any claims. So, I don't jump into trying many of the products that are out there. Before I even tell people about anything, I have to try the product for myself and see if there are any noticeable positive changes. And in the meantime, I do a lot of research and spend hours, days and months until I am convinced it could work. I listen to credible people, many of whom are MDs or research scientist, and I also like to meet people that have improved using a product. If the product may have some merit, I will also try it on my ailing or aging pets, since I have them too.\nLast year was my worst year, I was going downhill quickly to the point that I was really not interested in living. Many thing were happening to me. I was so miserable, and all I got from my physicians are the statements.... "You are getting older, you are breaking down, these things happen to many people your age." or "It is understandable, because of your nationality, and culture, people from that part of the world seem to have similar problems. ( I guess the statements were to make me feel like I was not alone )." \nI was a prisoner in my own home and not able to move much, or go far without help. If I mustered up energy to do anything outside the home, something embarassing would surely happen, and in the meantime, each day my discomfort level was rising. \nLuckily, an MD told my friend that this product may actually help a lot of people, based on what he had read and studied. She, in turn, encourage me to try it; she knew my physical and mental condition was getting worse. \nNothing else given to me in the past had made major improvements to my life. I even paid to be part of experimental theraphies done by my physicians. Short of travelling outside of the country for help, I was willing to give this product a try. It was cheaper!\nBy the way, The MD told me that this product is not a drug, and it is not intended to cure ailments etc.... All it does is triggers the release of adult stem cells from your bone marrow, and then the body takes over from there.\nAfter reading about adult stem cells, and if this product could stimulate any kind of cellular activity that would give me at least some relief, I could be a little more active. This product helped do the trick! \nI am very happy now and living life like I should. I have returned to many of my normal activities and even my pets have a better quality of life, too! \nIn the beginning of this year, I had two choices: I could remain a skeptic, not try the product, listen to the negativity and be useless and pray to die soon; or try the nutritional product and see what it can make my body do for me. \nMy choice was right, I now have a better quality of life, my activity level has tremendously increased, and I am enjoying life like I use to. I am no longer confined at home; I am working, and travelling again!
Avatar of: Robert Wendell

Robert Wendell

Posts: 22

April 15, 2008

Cesar Sanchez must be either a doctor, an FDA administrator, or one of those true believers in everything his elementary school books said about the perfect government and society in which we supposedly live. A few enormously important news items follow:\n\n1) There are a lot of very good things that we can all love and be proud of in our country, but our government and its associated institutions are far from perfect. Many if not all are corrupted to varying degrees by corporate interests.\n\n2) We have inherited from nothing more august, impressive, or scientific than long-standing tradition much if not most of the most basic, elementary technologies that we use every day. This category includes many practices commonly employed in the medical professions. \n\n3) If everything we do every day had to be substantiated by double-blind studies using rigorous time series statistical methods yielding very high probabilities against chance results, our society would grind to a halt. Most of what we do that works has been substantiated by nothing more than obvious, clear, in-your-face anecdotal evidence.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 22

April 15, 2008

That part of the article that pretends to fear toxicity provokes suspicion of a biased perspective. Why? It apparently attempts to exploit some innocent readers' ignorance of the already existing and very widespread, completely safe use of algae as nutritional supplements. That some algae are toxic is apparently being exploited to generate completely unfounded fear that this product may be toxic. There is no rational argument that would support such an unwarranted assumption.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

July 11, 2008

Everyone else seems to be running on the drama, "oh, the man is out to silence you!" controversy. Grow up. \n\nI for one am thankful for the information, it allows me to make an adult, informed decision as to whether spending $60 plus to use this product is worth it. There is another company that is charging twice that much and theirs does not seem to be an extract, rather the whole thing and from what I understand that is the toxin. It is found in the shallow parts of lakes where animals poop. \n\nFor those with negative comments, do your homework, look up the ingredients.\n\nJeesh, it is no wonder the FDA wants control over the dietary supplement world. People who blindly take what their told without being a critical thinker and investigating all angles, get themselves sick and killed.\n\nBesides any product that targets all cells is not a very great choice, like the man said, it can target the dormant cancer cells as well as healthy cells. Since our bodies cannot tell the difference, what would you want? Personally I working at being healthy, not playing Russian Roulette.
Avatar of: Douglas  Gray

Douglas Gray

Posts: 1

October 19, 2009

The FDA allows oncologists to use a wide variety of drugs with known and severe side effects. A friend of mine has to have his heart checked regularly for damage. These treatments, plus others have cost him about 1 1/4 million dollars over the last 6-7 years. \n\nThis product, by comparison, appears to be not terribly costly, and provide some benefits, with minimal risks.

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