Doctor who sent patients for stem cell injections is accused of exploitation

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 13 January 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c197
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

    A Dutch doctor who sent people with multiple sclerosis from the United Kingdom for controversial stem cell injections at his clinic in Rotterdam faces allegations of dishonesty and exploiting vulnerable patients.

    Robert Trossel, who also practised from Wimpole Street in central London, is accused by the General Medical Council of abusing his position as a doctor and offering treatment unjustified by the scientific evidence to patients with multiple sclerosis and Hodgkin’s disease.

    The case has prompted concern among scientists that the activities of unregulated operators could undermine public support for genuine stem cell research.

    Dr Trossel, whose case opened this week at the GMC in London, has been suspended from practice by the regulator as an interim measure and faces being struck off the medical register if the charges, which he denies, are proved.

    The allegations centre on treatments offered to nine patients with multiple sclerosis and an undercover reporter posing as a patient with Hodgkin’s disease. Many of the patients Dr Trossel saw at the Rotterdam clinic travelled from Britain for his treatments. In one case, the GMC alleges, he charged around €12 500 (£11 230; $18 150) for stem cell therapy, which would be illegal in the UK without a licence from the Human Tissue Authority.

    Apart from the stem cell treatment offered to multiple sclerosis patients, he is alleged to have made false claims to the undercover reporter about vitamin B treatment, “aqua tilis therapy” (a non-invasive technology designed to inhibit the action of radicals), and “therapeutic” magnetic resonance imaging. The GMC claims he told the reporter that chemotherapy would not be an effective treatment for his illness but that aqua tilis treatment had cured people with such cancers.

    In addition to the allegations over the treatments, the GMC maintains that Dr Trossel’s fitness to practise is impaired because he was convicted last February by an Antwerp court of illegally practising medicine in Belgium and of removing or transplanting stem cells at a place that was not a recognised hospital.

    Dr Trossel was suspended by the GMC after an expose by the BBC Newsnight programme of unproved stem cell treatments in 2006. Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, which assisted the BBC investigation, said it was “difficult to understand” why the GMC had taken so long to bring the case to a hearing.

    He added: “The MS Society fully supports and funds scientific and ethical stem cell research. However, we have consistently warned of the dangers of bogus stem cell treatments, as there is no way of knowing for sure the credentials of those carrying out the procedures or the health risks involved.

    “We have been concerned for some time about the regulatory gaps that allow practices such as selling bogus treatments to go unchallenged. It is high time that regulators took firm action to stamp out cowboy stem cell operations.”

    The hearing is scheduled to finish on 5 March.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c197

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