Stem Cell Fraud: A 60 Minutes investigation

The Internet is full of websites selling unproven stem cell treatments for incurable illnesses. Scott Pelley confronts one disgraced doctor offering false hope to a family with a disabled child.

The following is a script of "Stem Cell Fraud" which aired on Jan. 8, 2012, and was rebroadcast on Aug. 26, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Oriana Zill and Michael Rey, producers.

(CBS News) There's no greater desperation than to be told that you, or your child, has a disease for which there is no hope. Many people with incurable illness look forward to the promise of stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to turn into any kind of cell and, in theory, they could repair damaged cells, though, scientists tell us that we are years away from realizing that dream.

There is no stem cell miracle today, so con men, have moved in to offer the hope that science cannot. Just look online and you will find hundreds of credible looking websites offering stem cell cures in overseas clinics.

Two years ago we began investigating stem cell charlatans. We worked with patients suffering from incurable diseases, and we discovered con men, posing as doctors, conducting dangerous medical experiments.

[Scott Pelley: You know, Mr. Stowe, the trouble is that you're a con man.]

Our report started a federal investigation and since that story, we have been digging into the rapidly growing trade in fake stem cell cures. As we reported last January, we've found something even more alarming: illegal stem cell transplants that are dangerous and delivered to your doorstep. They are scams that often bilk the desperate out of their last dollar of savings and their last ounce of hope.

[Brandon Susser: I know you're tired.]

Adam and Brandon Susser are 11-year-old twins. Adam has cerebral palsy, his brain was damaged by a lack of oxygen before he and his brother were born.

Gary Susser: He's confined to a wheelchair. He needs assistance with all his daily living activities from cleanliness to feeding, to clothing.

Gary and Judy Susser have searched for anything that might improve on the judgment handed down by Adam's doctors.

Gary Susser: The sentence of being a quadriplegic, the sentence of being totally blind, the pronouncement by physicians that we should put him away.

Scott Pelley: Those were the things that his regular doctors were telling you?

Gary Susser: Correct. We were being advised literally, "Put him away. He's gonna destroy your life."

So back in 2003, the Sussers took a chance on the theory of stem cells. Adam was three. They brought him to a doctor in Mexico who injected stem cells with no idea whether they would work.

Judy Susser: We both decided that in the severity of his condition that we'd have to try it.

Apparently, there was no harm and no miracle.

Gary Susser: The progress that he made after that was minimal at best and therefore we didn't see any good coming out of it.

Today, people like the Sussers can find hundreds of sophisticated websites offering stem cell treatments for every hopeless disease.

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