Doctors Question Perry’s Stem Cell Back Treatment

AUSTIN (AP) – He calls it innovative. Others call it a big risk. In any case, the stem cell procedure that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had last month was an unusual experiment to fix a common malady: a bad back.

Perry, the newest GOP presidential candidate, has access to the best possible care and advice. Yet he and his doctor chose a treatment beyond mainstream medicine: He had stem cells taken from fat in his own body, grown in a lab and then injected into his back and his bloodstream during a July 1 operation to fuse part of his spine.

The treatment carries potential risks ranging from blood clots to infection to cancer and may even run afoul of federal rules, doctors say. At least one patient died of a clot hours after an infusion of fat-derived stem cells outside the United States. It’s not clear how much of this Perry might have known.

His doctor and friend, orthopedist Dr. Stanley Jones, could not be reached for comment despite repeated requests to the spokeswoman for his Houston-area hospital. Jones told the Texas Tribune that he went to Japan for a stem cell treatment that helped his arthritis and that he had never before tried the procedure he used on Perry. He also said it had no side effects or risks.

However, some top scientists are questioning the safety and wisdom of Perry’s treatment, especially because it was not part of a clinical trial in which unproven therapies are tested in a way that helps protect patients and advances medical knowledge.

Perry “exercised poor judgment” to try it, said Dr. George Q. Daley, of Children’s Hospital Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. “As a highly influential person of power, Perry’s actions have the unfortunate potential to push desperate patients into the clinics of quacks,” who are selling unproven treatments “for everything from Alzheimer’s to autism.”

Daley is past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, a group of 3,000 scientists and others in the field. He consults for several biotech companies and favors stem cell research. But of Perry’s treatment he said: “I would never in a million years accept for one of my family members to undergo this.”

On the campaign trail Thursday in New Hampshire, Ray Sullivan, Perry’s chief of staff, said: “The governor consulted with his physician and decided the best course of action for him. He’s very pleased with the results of the surgery, with the rapid recovery and with the procedure that he had. And he feels like that is certainly his right to determine the best course of treatment for him.”

Perry’s treatment was first reported by the Texas Tribune. The procedure was done by Jones, who works at Foundation Surgical Hospital — a private, doctor-owned orthopedics center in suburban Houston — but Perry spokesman Mark Miner would not say where it took place.

“The governor chose this procedure to repair a reoccurring back ailment” and has confidence in the team that did it, Miner told The Associated Press. “The governor believed in this innovative approach.”

It used Perry’s own “adult” stem cells — not embryonic stem cells, a controversial technology that involves destroying an embryo, which the governor opposes. Adult stem cells have long been used to treat cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma — it’s what doctors are using when they do bone marrow transplants. The cells are being studied for everything from heart disease to diabetes, but it’s too soon to know if these approaches are safe or effective.

Some orthopedic surgeons, including Dr. Christoph Meyer at Jones’ hospital, are experimenting with stem cells to help bones heal. The cells usually are taken from bone marrow and injected or implanted in the trouble spot, such as a knee or shoulder. The theory is that these “master cells” will follow cues from cells around them and form bone or cartilage, though scientists worry they also might spur unwanted growth and cancer.

Perry, however, had an even more experimental procedure: stem cells from fat removed by liposuction and grown in a lab for some time before they were put into his spine and bloodstream.

“It’s a new technology that doesn’t have the track record of the older ones,” Meyer said. “Doctor Jones and Governor Perry made a bold move but that’s how all advances in medicine have been made. I think it says a lot about Governor Perry that he was willing to try something like this that was new and untested. I mean that in a positive way.”

However, Dr. George Muschler, an orthopedic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic, said fat-derived stem cells are “an unusual choice” because they don’t form bone as readily as those from marrow.

Using them as was done for Perry is “quite experimental and it’s quite controversial because there isn’t good evidence yet, at least in the medical literature, that fat cells work better or even work at all in repairing bones,” Muschler said. “It’s out there, a little past the edge of what mainstream medicine would generally accept.”

The Cleveland Clinic has three patents on cell-related technologies Muschler developed, and he has consulted for Medtronic Inc. and the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Thomas Einhorn, orthopedics chairman at Boston University, has tested some experimental stem cell therapies himself. He said one concern is that Perry’s cells were grown in a lab dish with other ingredients where there is more of a risk they will transform into cancer and any breach in sterility could lead to an infection once they were put into a vein.

He also took issue with infusing the cells into Perry’s bloodstream. “I can’t think of any reason to do that. I wouldn’t want to cause a blood clot.”

It also enters a gray area with the FDA, which does not regulate how doctors practice medicine but does oversee medical products. Growing the cells in culture and possibly mixing them with other substances may make these modified cells a product. The FDA got an injunction barring a Colorado company from growing marrow-derived stem cells in this way; lawsuits over that are pending.

FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said that the agency could not comment on Perry’s treatment and that each case must be evaluated individually.

Besides safety concerns, little is known about whether such cell therapies work.

Patients may believe cells helped them, but there’s no way to know they did unless a study is done comparing those who did and did not receive such treatment, said Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. He was a physician to the USA Olympics Teams in 2004 and 2008 and is associate team physician for the New York Giants football team.

Perry still wears a back brace sometimes now on the campaign trail, but he wasn’t available for an interview Thursday. On July 12, less than two weeks after his surgery, he told an AP reporter: “Every day has been better. Not quite ready to go run a marathon in July but I feel great, wear a little brace and good to go. Everything is awesome.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


One Comment

  1. BigFED says:

    OK, It is HIS back, so how is this ANY ONE else’s business?

  2. John Patterson says:

    The AP has its marching orders from the Obama administration. Say anything negative you can about Perry – doesn’t matter what. You have to take him down, because our guy doesn’t have a positive record of accomplishment to run on. If the media had done HALF the vetting on Obama that they’re doing on Perry, the clown never would have been elected.

    1. ilvrw says:

      So the birth certificate thing is not considered “vetting”?

      1. C Bauer says:

        John, I’m going to have to agree with ilvrw. He WAS vetted, not so much in the mainstream media, but on conservative radio especially. We both know the huge following that Rush, Sean, and Mark Levin have. I heard time and time again about the birth certificate, his allegiance with Jeremiah Wright, Saul Alinsky, et. Al. Yet this warning bell fell on deaf ears as so many people wanted something different and were not willing to listen to the obvious warnings. It is the fault of the American Public that this twit was elected. Many fell for smoke and mirrors, not to mention the other choice was a RINO and his veep was virtually unheard of at the time. Sadly, we may be headed down that road again, as my once beloved GOP still has NO CLUE.

  3. C Bauer says:

    Jesus EFFING Christ, enough already. We’re not even a week into his candidacy, and more of this silliness?! He must be a real threat if so many stories are coming out already.

    I can see the false political ads now:

    “In 1969, shortly after the Tate murders, Rick Perry, high on PCP, formed his own Manson cult, where he took his childhood G.I. Joe figures out of storage and instructed them to kill his neighbor’s Ken and Barbie. In 1972, high again, this time on peyote, Rick Perry entered a movie theater nude, and proceeded to watch 15 minutes of ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ before being arrested – but not before he gunned down seven police officers. In 1984, while drunk and quoting excerpts from Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, Rick Perry proceeded to defecate on the floor of Tony’s, a legendary upscale Houston restaurant – right in front of The Pope. Rick Perry also kills puppies and drinks their spinal fluid. Did we mention he’s also had sex with no less than twelve Thai ladyboys? He also drives a foreign car. Rick Perry – bad for Texas, bad for America. Paid for by The Barack Obama Has No Chance In Hell of Reelection Committee.”

    1. C Bauer says:

      Then the TV returns to a Happy Days marathon, but after a minute, the ad cuts back in: “We also forgot to mention he’s the head of The Illuminati. Carry on.”

    2. altha says:

      C Bauer, Perry is no theeat to anyone the news media just trying to tell you IDIOTS what kind of person this fool is.

  4. NiteNurse says:

    We all have to remember he was an AGGIE and a cheerleader. He is the GOP Sarah Palin in drag. Just watch the Rick Perry circus because he will say a bunch more stupid stuff that the world will wonder why we hve such an idiot governor.

    1. C Bauer says:

      NiteNurse, with all due respect, can you post an intelligent comment regarding his POLITICS and not comments on his educational background combined with personal insults? Besides, what’s wrong with being in drag? Aren’t you liberals TOLERANT? You CAN argue on substantive issues, right? Or is phlebotomy the extent of your contribution to our society?

      1. Liberal, But Respectful says:

        OUCH! Owned! F—ING OWNED! G-DD-MN!

      2. C Bauer says:

        Thank you. I am an educated former liberal with an IQ of 161. I am not one to be messed with, unless you are truly prepared intellectually for a debate.

      3. NiteNurse says:

        Honey alot of what our lives become starts at the beginning. Sugar I use to be a dyed in the wool GOP conservative. Voted for Reagan, both Bush presidents, and not once for Clinton. Then overnight GOP started embracing all this religious stupidity and they made science and medicine look evil. It’s weirdos like Rick Perry and Sarah Palin with questionable educational backgrounds that I find a danger to our democracy. Politicans like them will turn our society into the Nazis of our century.

      4. altha says:

        C Bauer You are a real idiot.

  5. Land says:

    Perhaps there is a blood clot in Perry’s brain that causes him to have violent outbursts about killing the fed chairman.

    1. C Bauer says:

      Can you provide a quotation to that “killing” statement? Link it, too, please. We’re waiting.

      1. Bob Allen says:

        In the US treason is punishable by death.

  6. Bob from Ovilla says:

    Clear abuse of wealth and position. The Dr. should loose his licience. Procedures have a process they go through before they are approved for human use. This procedure clearly has not gone through that process and thus would be illeagle to perform in the US. We do not know exactally where the procedure was performed. He could have popped to MX and done the procedure there.

    1. RussP says:

      Many procedures that can’t be approved for human use are performed in this country under the guise of experimental procedures. Chemotherapy for cancer is one good example; the FDA cannot “approve” the injection of known poisons into the human body yet it is allowed. I signed a lot of paperwork to this affect when my wife was battling cancer.

  7. darrell says:

    first the back issue. i dont know much about the proceedure perry had. i do know that in the last ten years 7 friends of mine have had outpatient minor back surgery. 3 are dead. died within days due to “complications”. my own mother 8 years ago had surgery to fuse her lower spine. 2 days later she suffered a stroke, again, “complications”. she spent the rest of her life crippled and in a wheelchair. its a matter of choice on what type of treatment one may choose. he made his choice, enough said.
    from the way some of you dog perry, i would think you would be thrilled that the type of proceedure he had might kill him and hope he has more.
    go figure.

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