SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Prosecutors of the Tricia Derges case, a local state representative and health care provider, said she defrauded patients by claiming she was administrating stem cell therapies but administered amniotic fluid that contained no cells.
Doctor R. Micheal Roberts is a stem cell researcher at the University of Missouri.
“This magical word stem cells suddenly sounds as though you’re getting the most modern and efficient treatment,” Roberts said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved a handful of stem cell therapies and warns about potential side effects of receiving unapproved stem cell therapies.
Derges plead not guilty to felony charges for administering acellular amniotic fluid to patients.
Prosecutors said Derges gave the shot to patients with varying health conditions such as tissue damage, kidney disease, COPD and others.
The University of Utah, where Derges got her amniotic fluid from, gave a statement to prosecutors.
“The University of Utah was disappointed to learn that patients were allegedly misled about its acellular Amniotic Fluid Allograft product. Our product provides clear instructions on indications and usage and we expect licensed health care practitioners to use the product in an appropriate and responsible manner. We have cooperated fully with authorities throughout their investigation and will continue to do so. We are currently reviewing our processes to determine if we can do anything more to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”University of Utah Health
Roberts said the stem cells she claimed to use are normally only used for tissue repair.
“Sometimes they probably cause a certain amount of new cell growth, but in general, they’ve not been approved by the FDA for treatment,” said Roberts. “Whereas the treatment with amniotic fluid is just a way of, presumably, acting a pain reliever, but a much more complex one. On the other hand, whether it harmed these patients is quite another matter, it’s probable that these treatments were quite benign.”
Doctor Jeremy Reed, a sports medicine physician in Springfield, said he practices regenerative medicine only with autologous cells. This means he takes cells from a patient and uses them on joints, ligaments and tendons in that same patient.
“The FDA will let us do this because we’re not manipulating those cells,” said Reed. “We have, actually, pretty good evidence that we can reorganize, at least, tissue that is in disrepair or worn or even torn, for example, by using some of these types of cells.”
Reed said with the news of Derges indictment, he is warning people to be wary of people giving them their stem cell therapies.
“It was disheartening to see that term, ‘stem cell,’ used as a marketing tool for something that we may or may not have, you know, evidence for,” said Reed. “It’s also hard to see someone fall a little bit.”
The National Institute of Health does not recommend the use of mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of COVID-19 except for within clinical trials.
People looking into stem cell therapies should, according to Reed, do research on the physician’s training in the field, experience in the field, results they have seen and what type of cells they use.