Can civil lawsuits stem the tide of direct-to-consumer marketing of unproven stem cell interventions

NPJ Regen Med. 2018 Feb 19:3:5. doi: 10.1038/s41536-018-0043-6. eCollection 2018.


The sale of unproven stem cell interventions (SCIs) by commercial entities has proliferated in highly developed countries, most notably in the USA. Yet, there have been few criminal prosecutions and regulatory enforcement actions against providers who have violated laws and best practice standards due to the lack of resources and legal ambiguity. While the stem cell research community has invested much in protecting patients and preventing the growth of this industry, some patients are seeking remedies under civil law to hold stem cell clinics responsible for fraudulent practices. Several patients have filed lawsuits against providers demanding compensation for physical injuries caused by unproven treatments and financial losses due to fraud and false advertising. Lawsuits can be used as a tool not only to compensate plaintiffs but also to achieve positive public health and policy outcomes. In this paper, we explore the value of a public health litigation strategy as a countermeasure against the exploitative practices of the unproven SCI industry by analyzing stem cell lawsuits and comparing them with other major public health litigation efforts. We argue that stem cell lawsuits complement other approaches to reining in unsafe practices. In particular, stem cell lawsuits could intensify publicity and raise awareness of the harms of unproven treatments, set legal precedent, reshape the media narrative from one focused on the right to try or practice to one highlighting the need for adequate safety and efficacy standards, and encourage authorities to turn their attention to policy reform and enforcement.

Publication types

  • Review