Stem Tech, Stem Enhance, microcystins, Klamath Lake, algae, blue-green, Dr. Dale Peterson

Stem Enhance: New Story, Old Risks?

Stem Enhance: New Story, Old Risks?

2007 Dale Peterson, M.D.
To read Christian Drapeau's response see Christian Drapeau Speaks Out

Judging by the number of e-mails and phone calls I am receiving promoting the latest, greatest, cure-for-all-diseases, Stem Enhance is taking the nation by storm.  Unfortunately, the main thing that is new about the product is its name.  Within its carefully crafted marketing package are found extracts from a once highly profitable cure-all that saw its sales plummet after it was discovered that the product is prone to contamination with a potentially fatal liver toxin and carcinogen.

Stem Enhance is a product that supposedly increases the release of stem cells from the bone marrow.  However, the ability of the product to produce a sustained release of stem cells has never been shown.  Neither is there any evidence that an increased release of stem cells from the bone marrow is going to have a positive impact on a person's health. 

The creation of Stem Enhance appears to be a ploy to boost the sagging sales of blue-green algae.  At its peak in popularity blue-green algae boasted $400 million in sales annually and was claimed to be able to cure in excess of 600 diseases!

Stem Tech, unlike the original blue-green algae promoter Cell Tech, does not refer to the product as "blue-green algae" but by its scientific name "Aphanizomenon flos-aquae".  Stem Tech also states that the product is comprised of extracts from the algae, rather than the whole plant. 

My review of the medical literature on aphanizomenon flos-aquae revealed that 97 of 99 bottles of blue-green algae analyzed by independent researchers have been found to contain a microtoxin capable of causing liver failure.  A wrongful death lawsuit involving a young girl who worked for Cell Tech and died of liver failure after taking their products is pending. 

In February 2003 Cell Tech was found guilty of making 30 false, misleading, or deceptive claims and ordered to refund the full purchase price to any California customer who had bought the product between 1997 and 2002 if they requested a refund.  That sort of publicity seriously affected Cell Tech's bottom line, so a new product name (Stem Enhance) with a new story line (enhanced stem cell release) was needed.

Stem Enhance appears to be the creation of Cell Tech's original Director of Research & Development, Christian Drapeau, who is now the Chief Science Officer for Stem Tech.  Three additional former Cell Tech executives are part of Drapeau's "Desert Lake Technologies".

Drapeau, in collaboration with Gitte Jensen, first published a paper in the journal Medical HypothesesMedical Hypotheses is not a journal that shares data or facts; it is a forum for proposing theories.  In the article Drapeau and Jensen state, "we propose the hypothesis that in situ mobilization of stem cells from the bone marrow and their migration to various tissues is a normal physiological process of regeneration and repair." 

It is important to understand that what was stated is simply a theory.  There is little evidence to support the hypothesis.  It is true that a few autopies of individuals who have died following bone marrow transplants have found an occasional somatic (non-blood) cell that has developed from the transplanted bone marrow stem cells, but this does not mean that the migration of bone marrow stem cells to various tissues for regeneration or repair occurs under normal circumstances.

A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to turn itself into various types of mature cells.  Bone marrow stem cells typically turn into red blood cells, different types of white blood cells, and platelets.  Somatic (non-bone marrow stem cells) are found in many body tissues and have the ability to develop into different types of mature cells depending upon what is needed.

Interestingly, because stem cells have a greater capacity for sustained replication than other cells, they are being implicated in the development of cancer.  It is therefor rather ridiculous to assume that stem cells are some sort of magic bullet to prevent cancer or other diseases. 

Having put forth the hypothesis that bone marrow stem cells migrate to other tissues for repair purposes, Drapeau subsequently published an article showing that volunteers given 1 gram of blue-green algae had been found to have an increased number of bone marrow stem cells in their blood stream.  This was not a long-term study.  The volunteers consumed the algae once and had their blood analyzed.  An increased number of circulating blood cells was found, peaking 60 minutes after the algae was taken.  From this limited data Drapeau extrapolates that every 1 gram of blue-green algae will potentially cause the release of a few billion cells that will migrate to target tissues.

Unanswered, but important, questions remain: 

  • Is the release of bone marrow stem cells into the blood stream positive or a negative?  Will it increase the risk of cancer development?  Will it adversely affect the number of mature red cells, white cells, and platelets?
  • Does the observed release of bone marrow stem cells after consumption of blue green algae mean that the algae is beneficial, or is it a stress response to the algae or an unrecognized contaminant?
  • If the release is beneficial, is it sustained, or does the number of stem cells released decrease with subsequent servings?  Is there any long term response that might justify ongoing consumption of the product?
  • Do extracts from aphanizomenon flos-aquae carry the same risks of contamination as whole blue-green algae?  This must be documented by independent laboratory analysis, and I have been unable to find any evidence that this is routinely performed on each lot of the product.
People love magic pills, gimmicks & slick web sites, even when they may be hazardous to their health.  I have to give Stem Enhance's creators credit - not everyone could turn a potentially deadly pond scum into the cure-for-all-diseases.

For more information see: (a Vermont doctor's analysis of the original blue-green algae craze) and (the U.S. Geological Survey's analysis of the water quality issues of Klamath Lake, the source of Stem Tech's Aphanizomenon flos-aquae).