Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19

Column: Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19

Clinics with unproven stem cell treatments are already targeting COVID-19 fears. “If you think this can help you,” Austin Wolff said earnestly into the camera, “it’s worth a shot…. It can only help.”

Wolff was speaking on a YouTube video produced for the Novus Center, a Studio City business run by his mother, Stephanie, selling stem cell-related products said to treat chronic pain, sexual performance issues and the effects of aging.

In recent weeks, Novus has begun directing its pitch at potential customers fearful about the effects of the novel coronavirus, implying that its “stem cell exosome vapor” — the supplies for which can be shipped overnight to customers’ homes — can improve lung strength and the immune system and “ward off viruses and disease.” (Exosomes are a form of cellular secretion.)

 Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19. Novus’ videos bristle with formal disclaimers. “It’s not going to cure anything,” Austin Wolff says on one video. “You should only do this if you want to try it.”

 Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19. But the videos seem aimed at viewers desperate for any possible defense against a pandemic whose implacable spread seems to grow more frightening with every passing day.

Novus charges $10,000 for the shipment of vials containing the exosomes and nebulizing equipment. Stephanie Wolff says the business, which has been open for four years, has served about a dozen customers worried about COVID-19 in the last month or two.

 Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19. Promoters of untested and unlicensed stem cell treatments have jumped into the coronavirus market with both feet, says Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota who has been tracking the spread of clinics pitching these treatments to consumers for years.

 Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19. The direct-to-consumer clinics have pivoted their marketing message to treating or preventing COVID-19,” Turner told me. “That’s not really shocking, in a way; these are opportunistic businesses, and COVID-19 for them is an opportunity.”

In a paper scheduled to be published shortly in the prestigious journal Cell Stem Cell, Turner examines how these businesses are “preying on public fears and anxieties” about the pandemic.

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