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Stem cell therapy doctor exploited desperate patients, GMC finds

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5001 (Published 13 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5001
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

    A doctor who exploited vulnerable patients by providing unproved stem cell therapy could be struck off the UK medical register later this month after a finding by the General Medical Council that his fitness to practise is impaired.

    A GMC panel held that the Dutch trained doctor Robert Trossel was guilty of serious misconduct in exploiting desperate patients with multiple sclerosis and abusing his position. His actions constituted “repeated and serious breaches” of many of the essential tenets of the GMC guide Good Medical Practice.

    He had “seriously exaggerated” the benefits of stem cell treatment and injected patients with material not designed for human use that he knew to contain bovine brain and spinal cord live cells, without obtaining patients’ informed consent, the panel said.

    Dr Trossel, 56, practised in London’s Wimpole Street and sent patients from the United Kingdom for stem cell injections at his clinic in Rotterdam, charging around £10 000 (€12 000; $15 400) for the treatment. At the time the treatments were given, between 2004 and 2006, they were illegal in the UK without a licence but legal in the Netherlands.

    Dr Trossel was suspended from the UK medical register after the BBC Newsnight television programme exposed unregulated stem cell treatments in 2006.

    The panel said he had no background in neurology or haematology and was not an expert in stem cell research. He had embarked on an area of practice of which he had “scant knowledge,” it said, and the therapy was unjustified on the basis of scientific or clinical medical evidence.

    He was also found guilty of misconduct in offering “aqua tilis” treatment with a “therapeutic MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] machine” to an undercover journalist posing as a patient with Hodgkin’s disease (BMJ 2010;340:c2009 doi:10.1136/bmj.c2009).

    The panel’s chairman, Brian Gomes da Costa, said that Dr Trossel had made false statements to the journalist, including that the treatment had cured patients with the disease, although the panel was satisfied that when he made the statements he believed them to be true. But he should not have provided the treatment without seeing the patient’s MRI scan, his medical records, or a report from his treating consultant, Professor Gomes da Costa said.

    The fitness to practise panel will convene again on 27 September to consider what sanction to impose on Dr Trossel.

    The MS Trust warned patients with multiple sclerosis this month against travelling abroad for stem cell treatment. Pam Macfarlane, the trust’s chief executive, said, “It is understandable that some people with MS feel desperate enough to feel these treatments give them hope not available from existing approaches. There are, sadly, people who will exploit this vulnerability with expensive treatments that don’t work and may be unsafe.

    “Undergoing any treatment has to be a matter of personal choice, having weighed up the benefits and risks. However, we would urge people to treat the services offered by overseas stem cell clinics with caution.”

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5001

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