Stem cells give new hope to thousands of people with chronic medical conditions, but shady researchers and clinics prey on that hope by fabricating results and offering untested treatments. Here are some hallmarks of sham science.
Chinese surgeon Hongyun Huang lured hundreds of desperate paralyzed patients to his Beijing clinic with claims that his treatments would provide "neuro-regeneration, repair and functional recovery." But when a team of doctors investigated Huang's work in 2006, they discovered that none of the spinal-cord-injury patients they followed showed any benefits from his therapy, and five suffered dangerous side effects. One man returned home with holes through his skull — Huang had placed cells in the man's brain instead of his spine.
After an independent investigation in 2005 found that Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk had fabricated 11 of his stem-cell lines, Hwang held a press conference to apologize but still refused to admit that he had cheated. Rather, he blamed his collaborators for cooking up fake data and charged that they were involved in a conspiracy to sabotage his projects.
At the Cancun Stem Cell Clinic in Mexico, patients receive treatments from a "Hypoxicator" and a "Turbosonic Machine." Without offering any evidence, the clinic's Web site claims that these devices "stimulate your body to produce stem cells."
In 2006, the Dutch government shut down the PMC stem-cell clinic in Rotterdam after one patient was hospitalized for a serious allergic reaction to an unproven treatment.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.