WBTV hidden camera investigation captures stem cell sales pitch doctor calls ‘misleading’

WBTV hidden camera stem cell investigation

HICKORY, N.C. (WBTV) – A WBTV hidden camera investigation went inside a seminar hosted by a local medical clinic advertising stem cell treatment to prospective patients.

The seminar was held at a restaurant in Hickory and was advertised to potential patients through a flyer in the mail.

A WBTV producer RSVP’d for the seminar and attended with a hidden camera rolling. What he captured was a sales pitch that one Charlotte doctor said included misleading claims.

The seminar was sponsored by Carolinas Regenerative Medicine, a medical practice in Statesville.

At the seminar, attendees were shown videos from various people who claimed to have seen great results from stem cell therapy. Then a salesman started the in-person pitch.

The salesman said the therapy Carolinas Regenerative Medicine offers uses stem cells from outside of the body, specifically from the umbilical cords of healthy-birth babies.

“I don’t know about you but I’m not quite as fit as I used to be and cells in my body are less fit as well,” he said. “And they’re just not ideal for the regeneration we would like to see.”

The salesman went on to say that the stem cells from umbilical cords were so powerful, they could effectively treat a long list of orthopedic conditions.

“Ligaments, cartilage, tendentious, rotator cuff tears, knees, hips, spine, neck and back pain, shoulders, elbow and don’t fret if you don’t see something on here that’s ailing you, we probably just ran out of room on that slide,” the salesman said before going on to rattle off two more lists of conditions that can be treated.

We showed video of the sales pitch to Doctor Kent Ellington, who practices medicine at OrthoCarolina.

As part of his practice, Ellington uses stem cell therapy and helps lead a committee within his practice that’s studying the most effective use of stem cell therapy.

“That’s, unfortunately, false and misleading,” Ellington said after watching the video. “Broad claims like this just aren’t supported.”

For one, Ellington said effective stem cell therapy uses cells from a patient’s own body.

Second, he pointed out, the science behind stem cell treatment is still far from settled. Right now, Ellington explained, the treatment can be used in certain cases where patients still have tissue in their body to regenerate but won’t work in cases where a patient’s condition is caused by bone-on-bone contact.

“Claims that are made about the use of stem cells right now, it sounds like it could be a cure-all for a lot of different things,” Ellington said. “Maybe one day it will be but I think we’re far from that.”

Until last week, Carolinas Regenerative Medicine’s website listed its medical director as Doctor Hemal Mehta. The practice’s ‘About’ page said he supervised 19 clinics nationwide and “has extensive training and experience in Stem Cell Therapy.”

That web page was taken off the practice’s website after WBTV told the practice and an attorney that it planned to report on Mehta’s federal indictment this past fall in Tennessee on charges of distributing painkillers.

WBTV hidden camera investigation captures stem cell sales pitch doctor calls ‘misleading’

Initially, an email address associated with Carolinas Regenerative Medicine told a WBTV reporter that nobody at the practice was available for an interview because of a busy schedule and asked for written questions. The WBTV reporter offered to push the interview back a week to accomodate the busy scheduled but the practice responded by referring the reporter to their lawyer, Jason Ralston.

Ralston responded with an email that included the followig:

“I appreciate you reaching out to me as requested by my client but it appears they were sufficiently clear in their prior communication. I am sure with the vast resources available to you that you can have your own expert give their opinion about the benefits of this therapy.”

Ralston did not respond to multiple follow-up messages from a WBTV reporter seeking an interview.

When a WBTV camera crew visited Carolinas Regenerative Medicine one day last week, the front doors were locked and nobody answered when a reporter knocked, despite cars being parked behind the office and the crew spotting an employee walking in.

As for promises made at the practice’s seminar in Hickory, Ellington, the OrthoCarolina doctor, said to use good judgement when researching stem cell treatment.

“I think the things you learn when you’re a kid: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said. “I’m hopeful for the future of this science but there’s just not enough data and evidence to support that it can achieve all these goals.”

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