South Africa Couple Made Fortune Selling Fake Stem Cell Research Therapy

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 9, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Africa Couple Made Fortune Selling Fake Stem Cell Research Therapy Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 9, 2006

Cape Town, South Africa ( — A South African businessman and his American girlfriend are headed to court after making a fortune selling fraudulent stem cell therapies to unsuspecting patients. Terminally ill patients paid as much as $24,000 for an injection of stem cells that were not targeted towards the disease the patient had.

South African Stephen van Rooyen and American Laura Brown will appear at a hearing tomorrow in a South African court after Interpol agents tracked them down. The couple also face a 51-count indictment in the United States and will attend a hearing here in March.

According to the Cape Argus newspaper, the couple charged thousands of dollars for a one-time injection of 1.5 million stem cells.

Seeking to make money off of what has become a global issue where lawmakers and lobbyists promise miracle cures, patients received the same injection regardless of their disease, and the injections were not part of any approved stem cell therapy for a specific condition.

The couple ran a U.S.-based company called Biomark that was shut down a federal district attorney in 2003, according to the Cape Argus.

After that, they opened Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT) in South Africa and marketed their treatments on the Internet to patients worldwide.

A former employee revealed the stem cell therapy scam and told the newspaper that patients came to South African for treatments from as far away as Europe, Asia and Australia.

"They had a lot of patients and most were American or European," she told the paper.

The unnamed employee said the couple hired only young women to work at their fake company and van Rooyen handled all of the business side of their affairs.

"They were very secretive about their business," she said. "They just hired young females."

She described them as "clever" and said the couple lived a lavish lifestyle.

One waiter at a popular upscale restaurant the couple frequented told the Cape Argus she and others heard the couple was involved in stem cell research but could never prove it.

"They were very secretive and never talked about what work they were doing," she said. "I couldn’t believe it when we read about them in the newspapers. I always knew something was amiss."

The newspaper reported the couple told patients that the stem cells did not come from tissue from babies killed in abortions or human embryos destroyed for research, but from umbilical cord blood stem cells harvested after birth.

They told patients that the stem cells, once injected, would travel to the site of the disease and repair the body.