Preying on Public Fears and Anxieties in a Pandemic: Businesses Selling Unproven and Unlicensed “Stem Cell Treatments” for COVID-19

Leigh Turner

Available online: 7 May 2020.


In the midst of a global public health emergency, some businesses are taking advantage of widespread fears by marketing purported stem cell treatments for COVID-19. Such businesses target prospective clients with misleading claims, expose patients to potentially risky stem cells-based products, and undermine efforts to develop evidence-based treatments for COVID-19.

Lacking convincing evidence to support their advertising claims, clinics instead solicit clients by using such tokens of legitimacy as scientific-seeming rhetoric and references to published pre-clinical and clinical studies (Sipp et al., 2017). Clinics selling purported stem cell treatments or “immune-boosting” preventive therapies for COVID-19 and Covid-19 related ARDS exhibit this familiar pattern of using inaccurate advertising claims to make what they are promoting seem credible and worth purchasing. 

Perhaps seeking to avoid attracting the scrutiny of regulatory bodies such as the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some of these businesses make vague claims on their websites about stem cell treatments for COVID-19. A few businesses have posted to their websites videos of physicians expressing enthusiasm for the supposed promise of stem cell interventions for COVID-19. The sites encourage prospective customers to complete an online form or call and arrange a consultation if they want to learn more about what the clinics are selling. Other companies are less circumspect. Their advertising claims provide insight into how clinics promoting unproven and unlicensed stem cell products are using the pandemic as an opportunity to profit from fearful patients. 

The FDA and FTC have taken enforcement action against numerous businesses selling unproven therapies or preventive measures for COVID-19 (McGinley 2020). The U.S. Department of Justice has also announced its intention to prosecute parties making fraudulent claims related to COVID-19 ( Agencies responsible for overseeing markets for health products in other countries have likewise stated they intend to target individuals and companies making false claims and selling unapproved treatments and tests.


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