May 18, 2019
By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

One morning while watching TV, I was astonished by one of the commercials that ran. It was an ad for stem cell therapy. That was when it dawned on me – stem cells had finally hit the mainstream. It was no longer a procedure of myth and mystery that people saw as strange or taboo. It was now real, obtainable and, dare I say, normal.

The public discourse over the legitimacy of stem cell therapy (SCT) has taken a clear turn in recent years, away from fearmongering and misrepresentation, and toward medical innovation and less restrictive federal regulation.

Stem cell therapy may have officially reached its tipping point.

The term “tipping point” was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. He describes it as “that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once.” For Gladwell, certain large-scale social phenomena – which he terms “epidemics” or “contagions” – take hold through small, incremental changes that tend to happen in a hurry.

Gladwell asserts that, like medical epidemics, “tipping point” social epidemics obey three laws:

Law of the Few: They are driven by a handful of people

Stickiness Factor: At a certain point a message “sticks” in the memory

Power of Context: Human beings are sensitive to their environment

Three groups of people facilitate successful social epidemics:

Mavens, who possess the specific information or knowledge

Connectors, who bring people together and disseminate that information

Salesmen, who persuade others to believe the information.

It’s ironic that Gladwell uses examples of medical epidemics to describe a theory that could be applied to a modality with the curative power of SCT. The increasing and diverse number of patient testimonials online shows how SCT has reached its tipping point.

Roar Africa CEO Deborah Calmeyer used her own stem cells to repair a bone chip on a toe she injured falling down a flight of stairs at a Manhattan restaurant. After two years, her pain was gone and the cartilage completely healed.

Grandmother Andrea Coleman of Charlotte, NC used her own stem cells to heal her arthritis pain, pain which she described as “10+.” Less than two months after the therapy, her pain was at a “2 or a 3.” And how did she find the clinic? Her husband did a simple online search.

High school wrestlers like JD Peralta of small-town Clovis, California used SCT to heal a torn ACL and meniscus.

South Florida mother Marty Kelly credits SCT with curing her non-verbal autistic son Kenneth. At eight years old, Kenneth couldn’t talk or reread and was still in diapers. Now, after nine treatments, 17-year-old Kenneth is about to graduate high school. How did Marty Kelley find out about SCT? She “stumbled” across a little boy in Orlando who also benefitted from the therapy.

Finally, Superman actor Dean Cain used SCT to heal chronic pain from a knee injury he suffered playing professional football. He even invited DailyMailTV cameras to record the procedure. Cain also credits SCT with controlling his father’s Parkinson’s Disease.

When Superman becomes an SCT connector and salesman, you know you’ve reached the tipping point.

Small Clinics and Large Hospitals Tip the Scales
More and more clinics are offering SCT. This proliferation is occurring despite the restrictive FDA regulatory regime that dictates stem cells should be “minimally manipulated” and only for approved treatments. Clearly, the medical professionals are not overly concerned with FDA policing and investigation. This is similar to marijuana which, while still illegal under federal law, is legally sold in dispensaries in dozens of states without fear of a crackdown.

This perception that the FDA has adopted a permissive, laissez-faire stance is telling and evidences another SCT tipping point.

Not only is the number of small clinics increasing, but the availability of SCT in large, mainstream hospitals is further evidence of a tipping point. As Liz Szabo points out in Kaiser Health News, major hospitals like the Swedish Medical Center – Seattle’s largest non-profit health provider – have begun offering SCT with infomercial-like advertisements. The Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and the University of Miami have also entered the field to provide options to patients who have exhausted mainstream remedies.

“We have patients in our offices demanding these treatments,” said Dr. Shane Shapiro of the Mayo Clinic. “If they don’t get them from us, they will get them somewhere else.”

A serious argument can be made that the SCT tipping point has indeed been reached. Gladwell’s theory fits the SCT movement well. Although the SCT movement’s initial push was driven by the few, as Gladwell conceptualized, it is the stories of the many that drive it now.

Context has also been important. The pain and suffering of countless Americans has provided the context that has forced more clinics and hospitals to provide SCT. And progress has been quick. Just nine years ago I had to go all the way to China for my SCT.

A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. Rahman earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food.