The ‘impossible’ dream: City firm’s MS claims not medically possible, says top researcher

Posted: January 18, 2015 at 3:40 am

The numbness entered Kathleen Jaynes' body 19 years ago, and during the intervening years the multiple sclerosis symptom has spread from her toes to her chest. Nothing really changes the numbness, or helps. Which is why, despite her sister's misgivings and her own lingering questions, Jaynes paid $20,000 to receive an experimental stem cell procedure in India through Regenetek, a company led by a now-discredited Winnipeg researcher who fudged his credentials and misled patients.

It's not like there are many other sources of hope out there for patients such as Jaynes, 59, who lives in southeast Arizona.

"You're a no-option patient," Jaynes said. "You have no other options. I justified it in every way that I could, despite my family saying this guy is not for real. Unless you're in my numb body, you can't know how desperate you feel to not feel that way."

In exchange for that money, Jaynes and roughly 70 other patients received what one of Canada's top MS researchers calls an "impossible" promise.

In December, Dr. Mark Freedman looked over Regenetek's study protocols, after a reporter drew his attention to the company's claims. Freedman, who is the director of Ottawa Hospital's MS research unit, has plenty of experience with stem cell treatments for the disease: In 2000, he and bone marrow transplant physician Dr. Harold Atkins launched a study to examine whether transplanting stem cells from a patient's own bone marrow could halt the disease.

The study was closely watched, the results tremendously encouraging. The 24 patients in the study -- all of whom had a rapidly advancing form of MS -- showed improvement. Freedman and Atkins also treated about a dozen more patients outside of the study, who have shown the same positive results. The researchers have submitted the study's results for publication in a scientific journal, and are preparing to announce new research sites later this month.

But the procedure Regenetek owner Doug Broeska was touting wasn't anything like the technique that showed such promise in Freedman and Atkins' study.

For instance, Jaynes and other Regenetek patients the Free Press spoke to described having stem cells extracted, expanded and implanted within days of their arrival in Pune, India.

But the premise that patients could receive benefits from stem cells taken from bone marrow extracted just four days earlier -- and which had to make a 300-kilometre round-trip journey between Pune and a lab in Mumbai at that time -- is "impossible," Freedman said.

Culturing and expanding enough of those kind of stem cells is a process that takes "weeks," Freedman said, adding bluntly: "They're not getting anything."

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The 'impossible' dream: City firm's MS claims not medically possible, says top researcher

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