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.

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Gary Susser: I see how people are preyed upon by hucksters and charlatans. And people who have a special child don't need any more expense, don't need any more heartache, and don't need any more false promises. They need the truth and they need hope.

To help us learn the truth about the illicit stem cell industry, the Sussers agreed to work with us in an investigation of one stem cell laboratory. We focused on Stem Tech Labs of Ecuador because it offers cures for cerebral palsy and a long list of 70 incurable diseases. The website claims a "modern day medical miracle" and says "we are FDA registered," apparent approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The founder and director of Stem Tech Labs is an Alabama doctor named Dan Ecklund. We've been tracking Dr. Ecklund for months.

[Gary Susser: Hello, is Dan Ecklund there please?]

In October, we asked the Sussers to contact Dr. Ecklund. Ecklund sent them a letter which offered the blind and paralyzed Adam the possibility of an improved level of consciousness, improved ability to see, to speak, to stand and walk. What can stem cells really do today? We asked a scientist who's doing some of the world's most advanced studies in stem cells, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg.

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg: I believe stem cells have a lot of promise. But we are way at the infancy. Because real stem cells are very difficult to control as therapy. I personally think we're 10 years away from seeing real cell therapies that are working and are safe, but I do believe it will come.

Dr. Kurtzberg is a physician and the chief scientific officer of a stem cell research program at Duke University. She advises the federal government and she's co-director of this multimillion dollar laboratory which works with stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood. Dr. Kurtzberg told us there's no evidence yet that stem cells can treat cerebral palsy.

Pelley: Some of the diseases that we see stem cell cures offered for on the Internet include multiple sclerosis.

Kurtzberg: There are no stem cell cures yet for multiple sclerosis.

Pelley: Lou Gehrig's disease?

Kurtzberg: I wish there were but there are not.

Pelley: You know, I wonder how often it happens that you have to tell a patient, 'I'm sorry. There's nothing we can do.' And then they come back to you two days later and say, 'Well, I see all these cures on the Internet.'

Kurtzberg: I get many of those calls and emails and, and, see many of those patients. But it's very dishonest to mislead people when there's nothin' you can do.

But there's a lot that can be done for Adam Susser according to Dr. Ecklund who spoke to the Sussers from his lab in Ecuador.

[Gary Susser: Say hello to Dr. Dan, Adam.]

Dr. Ecklund's only examination of Adam came by teleconference. Ecklund didn't know we were watching.

[Judy Susser: Do you think it would help him, you know, make him improve?

Dr. Dan Ecklund: I think it's likely to help him, yes. I would say 75 percent chance that if-- that he would have a noticeable improvement.]

Ecklund proposed four treatments costing a total of $20,000. The Sussers asked Ecklund to treat Adam near their Florida home.

[Ecklund: Again, my concern would be the legalities of it.]