2 Investigators: Stem Cell Treatment A Miracle Cure — Or Expensive Letdown?

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(CBS) — Stem cell clinics around the country offer controversial treatments for all kinds of diseases and medical problems.

As CBS 2’s Pam Zekman reports, desperate patients are willing to pay thousands of dollars for them.

Charisma Cardine of Bellwood has been blind for 13 years, the result of a rare central nervous system disease. She thought stem-cell treatment could restore her sight, based on what a clinic told her.

“They told us that it was a 90 to 95 percent success rate,” Cardine says.

“They said they worked with one other patient besides her before and they gained their sight back within two weeks,” her sister, Christiana James, adds.

But Cardine’s $9,000 treatment at the Miami Stem Cell Treatment Center did not restore her sight.

That is not surprising to Harvard Stem Cell Institute researcher Dr. David Scadden.

“The likelihood that they are accomplishing this function … would be a very surprising result,” he says.

But Dr. Daniel Ritacca has a more positive outlook. He treats patients at the Chicago Stem Cell Treatment Center, part of the Cell Surgical Network. Ritacca says the network has had success in a research study treating patients for a variety of ailments.

“We’ve done over 4,000 patients. I do not tell them this is therapy. I do not say cure,” he says.

One patient is having stem cells injected into her spine for Multiple Sclerosis and her knee for osteoarthritis.

“We have to at least suppose that if we deliver it into the right area that they’re going to do the work,” Ritacca says.

Another MS patient Dr. Ritacca treated believes the $7,000 treatment worked for him.

“I’m walking better. I’m walking faster. I’m more balanced than I used to be,” Bob Leonard says.

Another chain of stem cell clinics called the Lung Institute says it can help people suffering from conditions like emphysema and COPD. Their website includes many testimonials.

Robert Heller of Northbrook, 79, was told treatment would help him.

His wife, Diane said they were told “he would breathe better and might even go off oxygen entirely.”

In a webinar Zekman participated in, Lung Institute officials said about 71 percent of their patients had seen a 10 percent to 40 percent increase in lung function. The website even says the treatment can regenerate lung tissue.

“If that were true it would be spectacular. There’s really no scientific basis for that kind of a claim,” Scadden says.

Heller paid $6,500 for treatments but says his condition only got worse.

“”They give you a lot of BS and wishful thinking and selling you on hopes. False hopes,” he says.

A Lung Institute spokeswoman declined to comment and Miami Cell Treatment Center told Cardine in a letter that they informed her that there were no guarantees for success.

Scadden says stem cells have proven beneficial for blood cancers including leukemia, some bone grafts as well as treatments for burns and damaged corneas.

Other uses are still being tested.

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