A Medical University of South Carolina researcher was one of three men arrested on charges they trafficked stem cells taken from women’s umbilical cord blood. A fourth man remains on the run.
MUSC pathology and laboratory medicine researcher Vincent Dammai, 40, was arrested in Florence Tuesday and appeared in a Charleston court Wednesday. The other three men– Francisco Morales, Alberto Ramon, and Lawrence Stowe– lived in Texas.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Morales falsely represented himself as a licensed physician to patients in Texas from 2007 to 2010. He would convince them that he could perform stem cell treatments for cancer, amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases. The Food and Drug Administration has not determined if such treatments are safe and does not allow them.
Morales claimed he was a physician at Rio Valley Medical Clinic in Brownsville, Texas, and would perform the treatments in Mexico, according to prosecutors.
The stem cells referenced in the indictment were created and manufactured from umbilical cord blood obtained from mothers at a clinic Ramon– a licensed midwife– ran in Del Rio, Texas. Ramon allegedly sold the cord blood to an Arizona company called Global Laboratories.
The indictment alleges Global Laboratories would then send the tissue to Dammai. Dammai, without obtaining approval from FDA or school authorities, then used MUSC facilities to create stem cells that were later sold by Global Laboratories.
“This investigation identified a scheme whereby the suffering and hopes of victims in extreme medical need were used and manipulated for personal profit,” said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Cory Nelson. “The predatory and opportunistic nature of the crimes alleged in this indictment mirrors images from science fiction.”
The indictment further alleges that Stowe marketed, promoted, and sold stem cells along with other drug and biological products for the treatment of cancer, ALS, MS and Parkinson’s Disease that had not been reviewed or approved by the FDA. He operated several entities, including The Stowe Foundation and Stowe Biotherapy Inc., through which he allegedly marketed and sold these products.
Stowe remains on the run. There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
The Attorney’s Office said the defendants received more than $1.5 million from patients suffering from incurable diseases.