A Seattle stem-cell therapy company was sued by the state attorney general’s office Monday for allegedly falsely marketing its procedures as treatments for COVID-19 and other medical conditions.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson named US Stemology, which runs the Seattle Stem Cell Center in Lower Queen Anne, and company owner Dr. Tami Meraglia in the lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court.
According to the complaint, US Stemology and Meraglia charged 107 patients for giving them “unproven” stem-cell treatments for COVID, diabetes, lupus, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other serious medical conditions. Some people were charged up to $10,000 out of pocket for participating in the clinic’s “patient funded research,” the complaint says.
“Dr. Meraglia and US Stemology advertised stem cells as a life-changing miracle cure that could treat almost anything — even COVID,” Ferguson said in a statement Monday. “They preyed on people’s fears and frustrations about their health to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars in unproven treatments. Their conduct brings to mind a 21st century version of snake-oil sales tactics.”
The treatment patients were given “essentially the same stem cell procedures as a cure-all for all of these conditions,” the complaint says.
While stem-cell therapy can be used to treat some diseases and medical conditions, including some blood disorders, there is no reliable clinical evidence that cell therapies treat or prevent COVID, or many of these other health conditions.
US Stemology did not respond to an immediate request for comment Monday.
The attorney general’s office began investigating the case at the beginning of the pandemic, when a Washington resident reported the company was making false claims about treating COVID.
One ad, for example, allegedly claimed that a critically ill COVID patient had recovered after receiving stem-cell treatments. In spring 2020, the company also called stem-cell treatment “your personalized ‘vaccine’ against getting sick with COVID-19,” the lawsuit says.
The attorney general’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to US Stemology in June 2020, according to a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, but later found the company had also been claiming for years it could treat dozens of other conditions, including serious heart, autoimmune and neurological diseases, without reliable scientific evidence.
US Stemology’s treatment included using cells harvested from a patient’s own fat tissue in a procedure similar to liposuction, according to the lawsuit. Then, clinicians would “manufacture a product” from the patient’s cells and inject it into the patient to treat various diseases.
“In recent years, stem cells clinics like US Stemology have proliferated throughout the country, advertising stem cell treatments outside the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s) approval as a cure-all for a myriad of medical conditions … despite the fact that no adequate scientific substantiation exists,” the lawsuit says.
In order to find patients, the company allegedly prompted its treatments as part of a clinical trial, though the FDA requires clinical trials be approved and monitored by an institutional review board.
Per federal requirements, the review board cannot have an interest in the project they’re reviewing, but US Stemology’s program was being supervised by two of its primary researchers who were “principal officers” of the organization operating the review board, the lawsuit says.
The complaint seeks up to $12,500 in civil penalties for each violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act and asks US Stemology to reimburse all the patients who paid for treatments.
The penalties could total millions of dollars, according to Ferguson’s office.
Anyone who wants to report suspicious or unproven claims about health treatments in Washington can file a complaint with the attorney general’s office at www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.