Doris Tyler, a retired elementary school music teacher, had to drop out of her church choir two years ago when she lost her vision. Since she could no longer see the music, she would need to memorize up to eight hymns a week to participate, and at 78, she just doesn’t have that kind of memory anymore, she says.
“The two hardest things are waking up in the morning, opening my eyes and only seeing darkness and knowing that it will be that way until I close them at night,” she says, sobbing. “The other thing is: I can’t see my children and grandchildren. That’s probably the hardest.”
For years, Tyler, of Ocoee, Florida, was slowly going blind from macular degeneration. Overall, she was getting along okay. She couldn’t drive, but she could still read large print, cook, enjoy her music, and spend time with her family. Then a friend gave her a copy of a book called The Stem Cell Revolution by Mark Berman and Elliot Lander, co-founders of the Cell Surgical Network and owners of a California-based stem cell clinic chain, which suggested that her macular degeneration could be cured with stem cell therapy. She decided to try it.
Within a month of paying $8,900 for stem cell therapy in both eyes — a treatment her doctors had promised would, at worst, do nothing — she couldn’t see anything in her left eye. A month later, she lost vision in her right eye too. Now, she sees only darkness.
Whether she was actually blinded by the procedure itself will be decided by a Florida court as Tyler has taken legal action against the clinics and the doctors who treated her.
“Even many physicians are not sophisticated enough to understand that there are many kinds of stem cells.”
But academic stem cell researchers who spoke with Medium say there’s little doubt that hundreds of clinics around the country that are providing so-called stem cell treatments like the one Tyler received are nothing more than a sham. Though there’s technically only one federally approved stem cell treatment (using stem cells from blood or bone marrow), that hasn’t stopped clinics from popping up and offering everything from knee repairs to stroke treatment to erectile dysfunction therapy.
“Snake oil salesmen capitalize on the fact that people see reports on stem cells,” says Sean Morrison, a former president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, adding that many clinics offer therapies that haven’t been proven to work and, biologically speaking, don’t even make sense. “Even many physicians are not sophisticated enough to understand that there are many kinds of stem cells.”