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Experts question claims stem cells can treat Alzheimer's disease

Posted at 4:47 PM, May 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-19 01:57:50-04

DENVER -- Medical experts said patients should be skeptical of claims that amniotic stem cell treatments can help people with Alzheimer’s after Contact7 Investigates found a local clinic marketing such treatments in a seminar for potential customers. 

“We just implemented our protocol for Alzheimer's,” a presenter from West2North Medical Solutions told a crowd gathered in a Westminster hotel conference room earlier this month.

"We now take this little syringe thing and go up through the nose. It is one of the very few procedures out on the market right now that can break the blood-brain barrier, and help to regenerate brain tissue," the presenter continued.

The seminars are primarily focused on selling consumers pain treatments by claiming amniotic stem cells can regenerating cartilage, at the cost of up to $6,000 per injection. A group of orthopedic surgeons and doctors told Contact7 Investigates they are seeing more and more patients who paid for the injections in an attempt to ward off surgery but had little to no pain relief.

One of those orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Ian Weber, attended a seminar with Contact7 Investigates and said the Alzheimer’s comments were particularly alarming.

“This is scarier than I thought,” Weber said after the seminar. “This is an absolute shakedown in which you're taking advantage of people's high hopes."

Dr. Jonathan Woodcock, an associate professor of neurology at University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz campus, said there is no proof the treatment described would be effective. 

“People, I think, have to understand they're making a bet on something that is simply unknown at the present time and that does involve certain risk," Woodcock said. 

Up until December, West2North was known as Denver Spine and Posture, and its clinic director is a chiropractor, Dr. Dean Jones. Jones declined Contact7's requests for an interview.

Contact7 Investigates visited West2North undercover for a free consultation and discussed the Alzheimer’s treatment further. An employee admitted the stem cell treatments are experimental but said they are probably better than drugs currently on the market and the clinic would charge around $6,000 per treatment. 

“There has been plenty of research to show that it has regenerated brain tissue and synapses,” the employee told a Contact7 crew.

Dr. Woodcock disagreed, saying there is no proven therapy using stem cells for Alzheimer’s right now.  

“Alzheimer's is a very complex disease. It's been looked at with a number of different hypothetical, theoretical models that have led to various kinds of experimental treatment approaches and none of those have yielded substantial results as yet," Woodcock said.  

The national Alzheimer’s Association released a statement last summer letting patients know that while stem cell research holds promise, there is no evidence supporting stem cell therapy for the disease at this time: 

“There are now more than 500 sites in the United States that offer what they are calling stem cell-based therapies, some of which claim to treat Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia. On its website, the FDA states that it ‘is concerned that the hope that patients have for cures not yet available may leave them vulnerable to unscrupulous providers of stem cell treatments that are illegal and potentially harmful.’”

The FDA cautions consumers to make sure that any stem cell treatment they are
considering has been approved by FDA (none have been approved for Alzheimer’s or dementia) or is being studied under a clinical investigation that has been submitted to and allowed to proceed by the FDA.