Seattle-based company deceptively claimed stem cell injections could treat COVID-19, Parkinson’s, lupus and asthma
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Seattle-based US Stemology and its owner, Dr. Tami Meraglia, for deceptively marketing stem cell treatments for COVID-19 and dozens of other serious medical conditions, including asthma, lupus, Parkinson’s, congestive heart failure and multiple sclerosis. There is no reliable clinical evidence stem cell therapy can effectively treat these conditions.
The company, which runs the Seattle Stem Cell Center in lower Queen Anne, charged 107 people a total of $748,250 for these unsubstantiated treatments. The company charged its clients as much as $10,000, out of pocket, for participating in the clinic’s purported “patient funded research.”
US Stemology claimed it was treating patients as part of clinical trials. In reality, the “trials” did not follow generally accepted standards of scientific research — and the researchers themselves led the “independent review” of the trials.
Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, asserts US Stemology violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act by deceptively marketing stem cell treatments for serious conditions without scientific evidence. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and asks the court to order US Stemology and Meraglia to pay full restitution to consumers.
“Dr. Meraglia and US Stemology advertised stem cells as a life-changing miracle cure that could treat almost anything — even COVID,” Ferguson said. “They preyed on people’s fears and frustrations about their health to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars in unproven treatments. Their conduct brings to mind a 21st century version of snake-oil sales tactics.”
The Attorney General’s Office was first alerted to this case when a concerned Washingtonian reported the company’s false claims that it could treat and prevent COVID-19. The company made these claims for at least three months in the early stages of the pandemic.
For example, an ad from the company claimed that a “critically ill” COVID patient got better from stem cell treatments. In spring 2020, the company posted a downloadable “Free Coronavirus Thriving Guide,” that called stem cell treatment “your personalized ‘vaccine’ against getting sick with COVID-19.”
“The reason for this is because stem cell therapy treats the lungs first and has long term anti-inflamatory and immune modulating properties,” the guide read.
After the Attorney General’s Office sent a cease and desist letter, the company removed from its website the claims that stem cells are effective against COVID-19.
While looking into the consumer complaint, investigators at the Attorney General’s Office discovered that the company claimed it could treat dozens of other conditions — including serious heart, autoimmune and neurological conditions — without reliable scientific evidence that stem cell treatments are effective in treating them.
US Stemology began marketing that it could treat these conditions starting as early as 2018. Meraglia began the stem cell clinic out of the basement of the medispa she owned, which mostly performed aesthetic and cosmetic treatments at the time.
The Seattle Stem Cell Center performed its stem cell “treatments” on over a hundred patients for a host of serious, chronic conditions, including asthma, muscular dystrophy, stroke, diabetes and Crohn’s disease.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved stem cell treatments for some blood disorders, but these procedures use a different cell type than what US Stemology used. The FDA has not approved stem cell treatments for any other condition. Health insurance plans generally do not cover stem cell treatments.
After the Attorney General’s Office began its investigation, US Stemology stopped taking new stem cell patients in June 2021. Many of the deceptive treatment claims remain listed on its website.
US Stemology operated illegitimate “clinical trials” to mislead patients into agreeing to unproven treatments
The clinic and Meraglia promoted their unproven stem cell treatments as part of a “clinical trial.” Instead of paying patients to participate in a trial, like most legitimate trials do, US Stemology charged patients thousands of dollars to undergo experimental treatments. In addition, the “trial” the company ran was marred by conflict of interest and shoddy scientific practices.
The FDA requires clinical trials be approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board, or IRB. Per FDA requirements, members of IRBs cannot have an interest in a project they are reviewing. Universities and large research institutions operate most IRBs.
US Stemology’s trial was under the supervision of an IRB operated by the International Cell Surgical Society. Two of the primary researchers listed on the US Stemology trials were also principal officers of the International Cell Surgical Society when it approved the trials.
In addition to this clear conflict of interest, the trials themselves did not follow accepted standards of research. For example, the trials did not use a control group or a standard course of treatment for each patient, and relied solely on patient surveys to assess results. Typically, legitimate clinical trials pay patients — not charge them thousands of dollars — for agreeing to undergo experimental treatments.
Instead of performing legitimate clinical research, US Stemology used a biased, self-interested IRB to mislead patients to believe that they were participating in “clinical research” — when they were, in reality, paying to receive unproven medical treatments.
Details of the lawsuit
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts that US Stemology and Meraglia’s unfounded claims are unfair and deceptive business practices in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
The lawsuit asks the court to require US Stemology to:
- Stop its unlawful conduct, including all unsubstantiated claims about stem cells
- Pay full restitution back to patients who paid for treatments at the Seattle Stem Cell Center, a total of at least $748,250
- Pay $12,500 total in civil penalties for each violation of the Consumer Protection Act, including enhanced civil penalties of $5,000 per violation because US Stemology’s misleading claims targeted people with disabilities. The Attorney General’s Office estimates that the penalties in this case could total in the millions of dollars.
Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Davies and Logan Starr, investigators Anton Forbes and Eric Peters, paralegal Rosa Hernandez and legal assistant Michelle Paules are working on the case.
If you see suspicious or unproven claims about health treatments, report it to the Attorney General’s Office by filing a complaint at https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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