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William Shatner: New celebrity pitch man for dubious anti-aging stem cell treatments?

A week ago, William Shatner Tweeted that he had received an anti-aging stem cell therapy. Perusal of the website of the clinic where he got the cells reveals yet another for-profit dubious stem cell clinic. Is
William Shatner the new stem cell clinic pitchman?

Here we go again. (I think.) Remember my bizarre little Twitter kerfuffle with, of all celebrities that it could possibly be, William Shatner? It happened two years ago. The details are not important. What is important, for purposes of this post, is that the kerfuffle came about after Shatner, as part of Autism Awareness Month, had posted a plea to support Autism Speaks. Regular readers here who are aware of the history of Autism Speaks probably know why such a plea wouldn’t go over very well among many autistic people, and I’m sure Shatner had no idea about that when he posted his Tweet. Why should he? Not surprisingly, a lot of autistic people tried to explain to him why Autism Speaks isn’t the greatest charity to support. Most were respectful—deferential, even—but, Twitter being Twitter not all the responses remained civil, and, Twitter being Twitter, the thread turned into a free-for-all. I made the mistake of jumping in, and the rest is history. Let’s just say that eventually Shatner found posts by Jake Crosby lying about me, as well as a number of other smears posted by a wide variety of antivaxers, cancer quacks, and others who don’t like my application of Insolence, Respectful or not-so-Respectful, to their favored quackery.

Let’s just say that William Shatner didn’t impress me with his willingness to consider alternative viewpoints and valid criticism, nor did he show much evidence of self-awareness or critical thinking skills. Of course, this isn’t a surprise. Shatner has not been known, especially on Twitter, for his reflective nature or critical thinking abilities. He’s an actor, one whose portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk I enjoy immensely, but an actor. Still, before I exited, Shatner admitted openly that he had posted links to TruthWiki and Mike Adams’ lies about me in order to intimidate me into silence. Not a good look.

Neither is this:

There wasn’t much in the news about this, other than in SF and comic book sites, but what there was was fairly credulous. For example:

Star Trek star William Shatner has opted to undergo a relatively new medical treatment in an attempt to rejuvenate his body. The 88-year-old actor tweeted that he’s received restorative stem cell treatment from the company ProGenaCell using stem cells manufactured by a company called Invitrx. “Today I received restorative stem cells from my good friend Greg DiRienzo at ProGenaCell,” Shatner tweeted. “The stem cells were manufactured by Invitrx here in So Cal. My friend Dr Mathi Senapathi gave the cells to me intravenously. Is it possible to turn back the clock? I will let you know.” Stem cell treatment’s like this are fairly new. According to a New York Times report in May, there’s little evidence that such treatments are effective, but the FDA has been willing to allow companies to continue to use them for now. Shatner has apparently decided its worth a shot. Who knows? If it works and works well enough, maybe he’ll feel up to a new Star Trek series. When he spoke to him about the idea in February, the idea of resurrecting Captain Kirk for a series like Star Trek: Picard seemed out of the question.

Not surprisingly to anyone who knows me, I had to take a look at this company and see what it’s all about. When I searched for the Invitrx website, I was greeted by a popup warning:

Invitrx Therapeutics, Inc. (Invitrx) is NOT liable for the intended use of any of its products. Invitrx does not intend to define, suggest, alter or approve of any kind of “practice of medicine” performed by the administering physician(s) instead relying on the IND and/or Clinical Trial IRB to determine safe practices of use of the Cord Blood Stem Cell Product(s)(CBSC), Amniotic Fluid, Amniotic Tissue, Human Umbilical Cord Blood Plasma (hUCBP), Wharton’s Jelly, and Wharton’s Jelly (MSC). These products are for Research Use Only.

This struck me, more than anything else, as a variation of the Quack Miranda Warning, where a company selling unproven products posts a warning that its statements about those products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA and that the product is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or treat any disease. Basically, it’s a dodge to try to keep the FDA away. In this case, Invitrx is basically saying that its products are intended for research purposes only, and if any doctor wants to give them to patients it’s not their fault. This is not an auspicious start. This is basically confirmed elsewhere, where Invitrx warns that its products “are sold only for use by properly licensed medical professionals in laboratory research, and by properly licensed medical professionals for clinical trials, and diagnostic or therapeutic uses approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and in compliance with all other federal, state and local laws.” Translation: If a doctor uses our products outside the auspices of a clinical trial or uses it for an indication not approved by the FDA, don’t blame us. Actually, this is a bit more honest than a Quack Miranda, or it would be if the sale of Invitrx products to Dr. Senapathi to use on William Shatner didn’t suggest that Invitrx isn’t too picky about enforcing its authorized uses.

Be that as it may, Invitrx offers multiple stem cell products for sale, including a minimally manipulated human tissue allograft suspension derived from umbilical cord blood, a minimally manipulated human tissue allograft suspension derived from the Wharton’s Jelly of the umbilical cord (Wharton’s Jelly is the gelatinous, structural tissue consisting of structural proteins and components, such as collagen and hyaluronic acid), a biological acellular product derived from human amnion, and a product derived from the liquid phase of blood and is rich in various cytokines growth factors, and immune modulatory factors. (I wonder if Invitrx claims that this product “boosts the immune system.”) Not surprisingly, as many of these companies do, Initrx sells a beauty product that it calls Reluma, which is “formulated with growth factors and matrix proteins produced using Invitrx’s proprietary stem cell core technology,” because of cours it is. Of course, whether or not there is a high concentration of stem cells in any of the cellular products is an open question.

So Invitrx makes stem cell products that can be used for research but whose main use is almost certainly at various quack stem cell clinics. But who is Malathi Senepathi? He’s the president of a company called Senapathi Biologicx Medicine in Indonesia, and I couldn’t find out much else about him. I could, however, find out about ProGenaCell. The splash page of its website touts “potent regeneration of damaged cells” with its products, which include: stem cell growth factors, umbilical cord stem cells, and “integrative stem cell treatment.” Given that the first two of these products are pretty standard in the for-profit quack stem cell business, plus my proclivities when it comes to blogging, I naturally zeroed in on the last product, the “integrative stem cell treatment,” which, the company touts, “prepare the body for the reception of new cells.” Clicking on the link brings up a 404 error, which tells me the company took the page down.

Perusing the website, though, I learned that ProgenaCell is basically a chain of stem cell clinics with locations in Asia, Mexico, and Los Angeles:

The first step is to fill out the Medical Questionnaire located on this website. ProGenaCell’s Board Certified Doctors will then undertake a full evaluation and prepare a detailed treatment protocol. Once you have received this information, ProGenaCell’s team will schedule you for treatment at one of our approved treatment centers located in Chennai, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Los Angeles, United States; and Baja California, Mexico. ProGenaCell’s approved physicians and treatment centers offer:

  • Detoxification therapies – pre and post stem cell treatments.
  • Various therapeutic applications using Progenitor Xenocells (Growth Factors) and Cord Blood Cells.
  • Diet guidelines during cell therapy.
  • Nutraceutical guidelines during cell therapy.

There it is again, “detoxification. That’s a huge red flag for even more quackery than just using stem cells for indications for which they have not been approved or demonstrated to be effective. There’s also a prominent link to Integrative Cancer Centers of America. Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. It combines unproven and disproven treatments with standard oncology and oncological surgery. And, yes, it uses homeopathy, along with a veritable cornucopia of quackery. Not coincidentally, William Shatner’s friend Greg DiRienzo is the CEO and Founder of Integrative Cancer Centers of America; founder and current CEO of ProGenaCell; and the founder and CEO of Medici Integrative Health & Surgery Center, a bariatric surgery center in Tijuana, plus several other companies.

I don’t know if ProGenaCell’s cornucopia of quackery that it uses with its stem cell concoctions is as extensive (probably not), but “detox” is an enormous red flag.

Even if all ProGenaCell did was to use its stem cell concoctions, its scientific rigor doesn’t look too good. For instance, it claims to be able to treat autism and includes this video:

It’s a video of Luella, who’s represented as a patient with autism spectrum disorder who, apparently, has been treated with ProgenaCell stem cells and is doing well. It’s one of the most pointless advertisements I’ve ever seen for any treatment, as it doesn’t provide any substantive information. It just shows the girl, her face blurred out. The implication is that the stem cells fixed a girl with autism. Of course, there’s no good evidence that stem cells have any therapeutic effect in autism. Elsewhere, there’s a letter from Luella’s father, who took her to Tijuana for stem cell therapy. It begins:

When my 3 year-old daughter was diagnosed with ASD a year ago, my wife and I were very aggressive looking into therapy and treatment options. We initiated ABA, speech and occupationally therapy. Over the next few months we observed some improvement in her autistic behaviors. The progress was slow, but continued to investigate other options. We had conversations with some friends regarding the possibility of stem cell treatment. This new and innovative approach sounded very promising. We were frustrated with the limited availability for stem cell treatment. Through one of my wife’s family friends we found out about ProGenaCell.

He expresses skepticism, but ultimately agrees to go, later reporting:

As I stated earlier, I was extremely apprehensive about the treatment. The fact that it was taking place in Mexico was a major concern for me. Having been through this process, I have referred a couple family friends to ProGenaCell for treatment. I am pleased to write that my daughter is developing very, very well. Within a matter of weeks we began to see off the charts progress in language development, social skills acquisition and a dramatic decrease in sensory processing. Her therapists at home have described her as a “Rock Star”. We have had an exceedingly positive experience through this treatment. Dr. Schramm and Greg have been continuously available to us. They have shared in our excitement as our daughter has progressed significantly.

As I’ve discussed more times than I can remember none of this means that the ProgenaCell stem cells did anything for Luella’s autism. None of the above story is incompatible with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Also note how he mentions “therapists at home.” This clearly suggests that Luella is continuing ABA, and that’s far more likely to be the reason she’s doing well than a dubious stem cell treatment. Certainly, there isn’t any good evidence that this treatment would help.

ProgenaCell also claims to be able to treat Parkinson’s disease, stroke, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injury, indications for which stem cell therapy has not yet been demonstrated to work. Indeed, there is even been a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial that shows that stem cells for Parkinson’s disease, even when the stem cells are injected right into the relevant area of the brain that contains the cells that make dopamine (the lack of which is responsible for the disease’s symptoms), do not relieve the neurologic symptoms of the disease. How likely is it that just injecting stem cells into the blood will work in Parkinson’s disease, knowing this result? Not very. It also doesn’t work in cerebral palsy,

But ProgenaCell, like every other dubious practitioner, has lots of testimonials and videos.

Of course, stem cells are commonly used, evidence be damned, to treat the degenerative diseases of aging. They’ve also become, among believers, a veritable cure-all, as well as a fountain of youth. Unfortunately, there is no good evidence or reason to expect that stem cells can reverse aging, although they might increase lifespan by the rather obvious method of allowing us to replace failing organs.

I could go on, but why bother. The bottom line is that ProgenaCell is, from all appearances to me, just another dubious stem cell clinic (or, more properly, chain of clinics) selling unproven stem cell therapies for indications for which stem cells have not been shown to work.

Which brings us back to William Shatner. He just turned 88. He’s a very good 88, still functional, still appearing on TV, still Tweeting, still writing books, still doing his charity work, but he’s still 88, which is very old. I don’t know what sort of chronic health conditions he might have (I don’t pay enough attention to him to know, even if he has discussed them in interviews or on Twitter), but at his age it’s highly likely that he has at least a couple. So it’s very understandable that he might be tempted to try to “turn back the clock.” The problem is that it won’t work.

I also don’t know how much—or if—William Shatner paid for his stem cell therapy. I say “if” because I know of at least one celebrity, Gordie Howe, who was given stem cell therapy basically so that his family would promote the company, Stemedica, that treated him for free. I note that Shatner’s Tweet is tagged as an ad, which makes me wonder if the same sort of dynamic is going on here. In the interest of transparency, Mr. Shatner should disclose whether he paid regular price for ProgenaCell treatment or not, and if he received any compensation for posting that Tweet. My guess is that he did.

Not that any of this will change Shatner’s fans’ attitudes. The responses to his Tweet above were overwhelmingly positive and credulous, complete with photos of William Shatner when he was young with comments added about how that’s what he’ll look like when he wakes up, along with more than a few expressing a desire to be like Shatner and get some stem cells. Few indeed were any responses showing an iota of skepticism. Of course, that was the point. This is an ad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t long until William Shatner is the celebrity spokesperson for ProgenaCell or other stem cell clinic. It’s a shame, but I expect to see more of this as

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

43 replies on “William Shatner: New celebrity pitch man for dubious anti-aging stem cell treatments?”

Enjoyed the post Orac but you failed to complete the last sentence which states, “It’s a shame, but I expect to see more of this as”

Allow MJD to complete the sentence:

It’s a shame, but I expect to see more of this as William Shatner’s clock keeps ticking.

@ BillyJoe,

One should always add quality to Orac’s Respectful Insolence (RI) creation, not take it away.

@ Orac,

This is what you get after repeatedly denying my request to write a guest post for RI. Please, smell the roses and make MJD’s dream come true.

@ MJD **

Are you so obsessed that you don’t read what ORAC HIMSELF has written so CLEARLY about guest posts ( see Guest post policy, top of this page ). He will ASK people to write a guest post if he ever wants someone to do so..

Has he ever asked you to write a guest post?
Has he ever said ANYTHING but the contrary- that he will not allow you to write a guest post?
Do you think that your whining about this will ever lead to anything but the reverse- i.e. him telling you NO?

** I know, I know I said that I was giving up on him but THIS cannot be left unanswered

My request to write a guest post is in the category of “extraordinary circumstance.” Therefore, my offer remains.

@ Orac,

You write at the very beginning of this post, “Here we go again.”

MJD says,

Like you, I’ll keep trying. Please advise.

So even Captain Kirk is scared of getting old?

To be honest, while I’m troubled, I think this is less troubling than when such things are promoted for autism, cancer, and other medical conditions. I may be wrong, but I think the audience here is less at risk of foregoing real treatments and less in a vulnerable state of mind. Happy to be convinced otherwise.

True, but, as with any medical intervention, stem cell treatments have risks, some of which we don’t know yet. If you’re spending big bucks for a treatment that is no benefit and all risks to try to mitigate the effects of aging, that’s not good. Of course, Shatner can afford it easily. There are lots of people who can’t and are taken in by such claims.

I think the only valid “anti-aging treatment” Shatner has had came from the scalpel of a good plastic surgeon.

If this works, we could be getting ads pitched at us by a 120-year-old Shatner.

It’d be better than endless Liberty Mutual spots.

Shatner may never have even had the treatment. He is just such an amazing actor he can act like he got the fake treatment and we’d never know.

Regarding celebrities, stem cells need Chuck Norris injections to stay young.

Heh. Of course, Chuck Norris could be the next one. He’s into anti-GMO and claims that gadolinium contrast from MRIs gave his wife all sorts of chronic illnesses.

Chuck Norris and his wife are suing 11 companies.

They claim the gadolinium caused muscle wasting, burning pain, confusion, shaking and kidney failure. His attorney seems to specialise in suing for damage from gadolinium, so I guess Mrs Norris isn’t the only person to claim that a MRI ruined her life.

What I want to know is how a total of 11 companies could be involved in a MRI scan, or are they just suing everyone involved from the doctor(s) who ordered the scans to the technicians who performed them?

@Shelly

What I want to know is how a total of 11 companies could be involved in a MRI scan, or are they just suing everyone involved

The easiest way to answer would be to look at the actual legal documents, if available, but since I have more fun guessing…
So my guess would be along the second part of your question, but applied to all the enterprises/manufacturers involved, not just the people in the hospital:
– so, yes, the hospital
– the MRI instrument manufacturer
– the contrast agent manufacturer
– the insurance companies and other middlemen involved in the qualification/certification of the MRI procedure, and those involved in this procedure being recommended to the Noris family
– the MRI is made of many parts, some may come from different manufacturers, so let’s add them to the list
– ditto for the contrast agent: the gadolinium doesn’t grow one a tree in the backyard of the contrast agent provider, someone had to mine it, purify it, etc. Let’s add them, too.
– the hospital, instrument manufacturer and contrast agent manufacturer may be part of a bigger corporation/brand/franchise. Let’s add them as separate entities.
– heck, for all I know, let’s add the manufacturer(s) of the syringe, needle and catheter used to deliver the contrast agent…

More seriously, I may not be too far off with the first four items of this list to account for the 11 entities being sued.

Well, if photos are accurate, stem cells seem to be doing wonders for his hair! It looks so much better than when he was a young actor starting out in Star Trek– he now has a lot of hair! There is very little grey. That’s amazing for his age.

After playing Kirk, Shatner went on to become Denny Crane in Boston Legal which is a much better fit with his views today.

complete with photos of William Shatner when he was young

IIRC, the wrap-around tunic on Star Trek was introduced because he had gotten too chubby for the pullover.

Shatner looks fabulous for his age of 88–even accounting for the camera magic and mountains of beauty treatments that no doubt transform him from a regular guy into a hot star. I hope he looks into fasting as a natural and free way to potentially increase production of his own stem cells.

Jon Rappoport looks great for 80, and is still a prolific writer and speaker. Let’s see how you fair when you’re 80, Narad. Will you be doing anything useful? Or will you be pouring over snarky comments from younger twits who think your value is determined by your paunch and fading looks?

Jon Rappoport looks great for 80

He looks like Charles Manson after a hard night.

Let’s see how you fair [sic] when you’re 80, Narad.

I have no intention of making to 80, Ginny; I just need to outlive my father.

Will you be doing anything useful?

The irony here is that you are not doing anything useful now.

Why does anyone think this will work? Like, seriously. Let us imagine, for a moment, that there actually are stem cells in these injections. Real, fancy, pluripotent stem cells that could become any cell type at all. What on earth makes anyone think that just injecting those cells into a person is going to make them suddenly differentiate into the kind of cells that would “reverse aging”? What kind of cells would that even be?

Has even one of these stem cell places said how they influence the differentiation of the stem cells? What’s to stop these cells from becoming epithelial cells or fat cells or red blood cells or something else you’ve got plenty of? Or worse, from becoming, say a bone cell someplace where you really don’t need bone formation, like in a joint, or in the brain?

It’s not magic! The cells don’t “know” what you want them to be. That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!

@ JustaTech:

BUT that’s not how they think:
in their fevered imaginations, cells know where to go because of the Intrinsic/ Innate Wisdom of the Universe / the Body. Or because…Vitalism !! ( I know, I know, it’s bad English to say it that way but I hear it all of the time on prn).
The cells should do as you wish if you wish hard enough/ are pure of heart.
Oy vey!

( OT but you’ll love it!
on Bill Maher’s entry ( on Bing) his Timeline features 6 IMPORTANT events:
one is that Dr DG shredded his anti-vax on SciBlogs and also wrote about him winning the Dawkins’ award.
Orac: His Fame Grows!)

I just mentioned in a comment below the case of bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow cells are “just” injected and do go to their proper place all by themselves. It’s actually really marvelous, it’s an organ who does half the work of grafting itself.
But as I pointed, bone marrow are not totipotent stem cells.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that people may read about bone marrow transplant either kick-started or reinforced these beliefs in stem cells just going where needed.

Consider teratoma (a type of cancer). The theory is that it is caused by germ cells (totipotent stem cells) stuck in a wrong place when traveling to genital organs. Teratoma is combination of random tissues. If a stem cell truly differentiates in a random place, without any morphogenic signals, this would probably be the result.

@ Aarno Syvänen

Yep. One could hope that the re-injected “normal” stem cells will get signals from the surrounding tissues where they settle and just sit quietly, merge with these tissues and at best produce/differentiate into more cells appropriate for their location.
Even in this best-case scenario, stem cells won’t magically replace your old organs with new ones; just growing missing parts won’t happen unless the tissues are sending the appropriate signals. And in this case, it’s the stem cells already in the tissue which are best placed to pick up the signal, there should be no need to add some trans-located, disoriented new ones.

Now, if the re-injected stem cells have indeed been triggered into differentiating and multiplying, by design or by their manhandling…
To be fait, there are studies looking at doing that by design. I have no idea how far we are toward successful applications, but I suspect the part about sending back in the proper place the differentiating stem cells is really not a trivial matter.
That works for bone marrow transplant. Just inject it and it will go where it should go, inside bones, but 1 – bone marrow is not totipotent stem cells, but a bunch of already differentiated cells, who perfectly know what they should be doing, and 2 – it’s a very peculiar and specialized tissue, but also a very simple one in terms of internal organisation. I mean, compared to e.g. liver and heart and lung and pancreas and all the others ones, who are multi-tissue, multi-layered organs who need specific organisation and connections to be functional.

And indeed, if something goes amiss in the process and some stem cells do start to build something in the wrong place… Teratoma is a possibility.
For people interested in what teratoma means, ‘terato’ means ‘monster’. Teratology is the study of birth defects, to put is simply.
There are website with pictures. If you are faint of heart and value your sanity, do.not.look.at.them.

If it’s an advertisement, it’s pretty risky. The guy’s 88. He could die any day now. How would that look?

If Shatner dies in the near future, stem cell infusion advocates can always argue that he would have achieved greater longevity if he hadn’t waited so long to get the therapy.*

It’s basically the same tactic wooists use to explain why cancer patients aren’t cured by alternative therapies; they wrecked their chances by getting mainstream treatments first.

*or didn’t take NAD supplements or resveratrol pills at the same time.

“He’s an actor,”

You give him a great deal of credit.

A mediocre actor at best who banked on a figure and looks that didn’t stay with him. No wonder he’s all in for the woo. And I say this as a huge TOS fan from the old days. I have a great deal of respect for the directorial skills that wrung a decent performance out of him in Star Trek II.

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