Celltex Therapeutics is a company that "grows and banks stem cells" that are harvested from the ultimate recipient's body fat (an autologous transplant). The company came to national attention when it was revealed that it had provided the services that allowed Rick Perry to be injected with his own stem cells, in an effort to relieve back pain.
In 1999, bioethicist Glenn McGee founded the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB); he was the editor-in-chief of the journal at the same time he was the president of strategic initiatives for Celltex Therapeutics, as this December 15, 2011 news article makes clear. First, McGee resigned from the editorship of AJOB (but announced he would remain as a consultant until mid-March), then he resigned from Celltex.
On February 17, 2012 Slate published an article. “The Celltex Affair: An Ethics Scandal Strikes the World of Bioethics,” a critique of McGee's relationship with Celltex and Celltex's conduct, written by University of Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliott. The article was retracted on February 29, 2012. Ivan Oransky reports that Slate's retraction was driven by fear of litigation.
Between February 14, 2012 and March 9, 2012, University of Minnesota bioethicist Leigh Turner wrote a series of blog posts detailing l'affaire McGee and other concerns about Celltex's ethical conduct. On February 21, 2012, Turner sent a letter to the FDA, outlineing concerns that he and others had about Celltex. The letter was on the University of Minnesota's letterhead, which of course Turner, as a professor, had the right to use. In the letter, Turner " expressed concerns about patient-client safety, the quality of scientific research supporting their proposed business model, and whether both will conform to relevant federal and state laws and regulations. "
Celltex responded on March 9, 2012, having their attorneys write a letter to the President of the University of Minnesota:
In a closely watched move, the University of Minnesota has written attorneys for Celltex Therapeutics to say that one of its professors, who recently asked the FDA to investigate the practices of the stem cell company, was speaking only for himself, although he is protected by school policies on academic freedom.
After the U Minn response, a number of other ethicists decided upon a "I am Spartacus" action, each sending their own letter to the FDA outlining their concerns about Celltex. Carl Elliot at the Chronicle of Education has the complete list.
On April 4, 6 and 9, William Heisel of Reporting on Health interviewed Leigh Turner. The first interview focused on medical tourism. The second part focused on what, exactly are the issues that Glenn McGee's actions raise? The final installment covers both the "I Am Spartacus" response from bloggers, and the Streisand Effect -- or how Celltex's effort to intimidate Turner (and Elliot) into silence has backfired.
The Autism Connection
Note: There are at least two issues in "stem cells and autism". One is using stem cells from autistic individuals for research purposes, which is non-controversial. The other is quite controversial -- stem cells as "therapy" the idea that infusing autologous or allogeneic stem cells into an autistic person bloodstream or cerebrospinal could improve their symptoms.
Back in January, 2010, Prometheus at Photon in the Darkness wrote a critique of "Stem Cell Therapy for Autism"
In growing numbers, people are taking their autistic children to “clinics” - in Costa Rica, in Germany, in Russia - to get “stem cell” injections. I put “stem cell” inside inverted commas because it is not entirely clear that what these children are receiving are actual stem cells.
Sources, Stem Cell Transplantation as an Autism Treatment; Medical Tourism in Autism
- June 27 2007 Ichem et al. Stem Cell Therapy for Autism (Journal of Translational Medicine 2007, 5:30 doi:10.1186/1479-5876-5-30)
- May 15 2008 Yahoo Group Stem Cell For Autism 2 founded
- 2008 KCR3 (Sacramento CA) Parents Hope Stem Cells Help Autistic Son; Family Travelling to Costa Rica (Matthew Faiella)
- June 8 2009 PRWeb Open Letter to President Obama on Stem Cell Therapy for Autism (Lauren DiCorci, treated at XCell-Center in Germany)
- January 26 2010 Prometheus at Photon in the Darkness Stem Cell Therapy for Autism
- February 10 2010 Sullivan at LeftBrain/RightBrain Stem Cell Therapy for Autism
- April 13, 2010 Wolffe Nadoolman MD at the Empathic Pediatrician Stem Cells for Autism?
- June 2010 Yahoo Group StemCellDR founded
- June 4 2010 Robb Sipp at Stem Cell Treatment Monitor (expanded title) Institute for Cellular Medicine in Costa Rica Closed.
- June 25, 2010 Rob Poindexter at WABI-5 Stem Cell Treatment Doing Wonders For Autistic Glenburn Boy (Kenneth Kelley treated by in Costa Rica)
- August 2010 Infant being treated at XCell Center in Dusseldorf Germany Dies
- December 15, 2010 Guest Blogger at LeftBrain/RightBrain The Peril of Parent Testimony – Stem Cell Treatment for Autism (Matthew Faiella, treated in Panama)
- December 16, 2010 Orac at Respectful Insolence: Stem Cell quackery for autism, revisited (Matthew Faiella, treated in Panama)
- May 8 2011 at The Telegraph XCell Center in Dusseldorf Closed
- January 8 2012 60 Minutes: Stem Cell Fraud (Dan Ecklund MD in Ecuador)
- February 1 2012 Mark Johnson at the Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee) Beike Biotechnology in China: When children have terrible diseases, some relatives turn to unproven stem cell injections, but experts worry about this approach
- February 1 2012 Meg Kissinger at the Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee) On Beike Biotechnology in China The Internet has helped companies spread the word of 'miracle' recoveries, but families have to tread carefully
Sources, L'affaire Glenn McGee
- June 16, 2008 Brendan Borell at Scientific American An Unethical Ethicist?
- July 7, 2008 Brendan Borell at Scientific American Alden March Bioethics Institute Picks Up the Pieces After Glenn McGee's Ouster
- January 29, 2012 Doug Sipp at Stem Cell Treatment Monitor Stem Cell Graft, Texas Style
- February 13, 2012 Press Release from CellTex Celltex Announces Glenn McGee, Ph.D. as President of Ethics and Strategic Initiatives
- February 14, 2012 Leigh Turner at Health in the Global Village Glenn McGee and The Internet Adjustment BureauFebruary
- February 18, 2012 Michael Cook at Bioedge: American bioethics shaken by dispute over conflict of interest
- February 22, 2012 William Heisel at Reporting on Health Question Authority: A Bioethics Journal Controversy Reminds Writers to Be Wary
- February 25, 2012 Leigh Turner at Health in the Global Village CellTex, RNL Bio, Stem Cells & Governor Rick Perry–CellTex’s “Debut Client”
- February 26, 2012 Leigh Turner at Health in the Global Village CellTex Partner RNL Bio Promotes Stem Cell “Tourism”
- February 28, 2012 Leigh Turner at Health in the Global Village Celltex is not just another “stem cell company
- February 29, 2012 David Cyranoski at Nature: Stem-cell therapy takes off in Texas: A boom in unproven procedures is worrying scientists.
- February 29, 2012 Ed Silverman at Pharmalot A Bioethics Journal And Questionable Ethics?
- March 1 2012 Ed Silverman at Pharmalot McGee Resigns From Celltex: I Have Had ‘Enough’
- March 1 2012 Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch Updated: Slate retracts story on Glenn McGee and Celltex following lawsuit threats, as McGee resigns from company
- March 1 2012 William Heisel at Reporting on Health Slap: Pressure From Politically-Connected Stem Cell Firm Celltex Leads To Slate Retraction
- March 9 2012 Leigh Turner at Health in the Global Village An Inside Job: How The American Journal of Bioethics Was Destroyed
- March 12 2012 Ed Silverman at Pharmalot Celltex Muscles Ethics Professor For Contacting FDA
- March 18 2012 Carl Elliot at Chronicle of Higher Education University of Pennsylvania Prof to Celltex: ‘I am Spartacus’
- March 23 2012 Ed Silverman at Pharmalot (expanded title) University of Minnesota to Celltex: Professor Leigh Turner Has Academic Freedom
- March 29 2012 Tom Mischke at Fear and Loathing in Bioethics The Mischke Interview: Celltex says, "Let’s take on this little man by himself and squash him.”
- April 4 2012 William Heisel at Reporting on Health Q&A with Leigh Turner: Tracking Medical Tourism Consequences
- April 6, 2012 Q&A with Leigh Turner, Part 2: Finding Ethical Quandaries Amid Academic Rivalries