x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai stem cell marketer linked to baby death

Health authority sends notice to Cells4Health to stop operations while review is conducted even as founder refutes blame for patient deaths.

DUBAI // A health service provider representing a stem cell company that was banned in Germany has been forced to cease operation.

Omni Medical Health Services in Dubai was promoting Cells4Health, a company based in Switzerland.

Dr Cornelis Kleinbloesem, the founder, previously owned a similar facility in Germany called XCells, which was closed last May by the German authorities.

It was banned from marketing its stem cells after injections into children's brains were blamed for the death of an 18-month-old in Italy and a further brain injury to a 10-year-old Azerbaijani boy.

When the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) received documents from The National reflecting Omni Medical's relationship with Cells4Health, the DHA issued a statement saying they had "sent a notice to Omni Medical to stop operations in Dubai until it is evaluated by the DHA and undergoes all licensing criteria". It was not clear when notice was given.

According to the DHA's statement, Omni Medical was licensed by the Department of Economic Development (DED) in 2009 - one year before the implementation of rules that require medical companies to acquire a licence from the DHA.

The DHA said it was working with the DED to ensure that companies licensed in 2009 or earlier comply with the new rules.

After reviewing a report by the Pearl-Ehrlich Institute, a federal institute in Germany for vaccines and biomedicines, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia state banned XCells from bringing stem cells into the market.

The report said the intended use of XCell's stem cell preparations for the brain had harmful effects that went beyond what was "considered acceptable according to medical science".

Dr Kleinbloesem said Cells4Health does not currently operate a clinic but refers patients to other clinics.

He added that he has applied to the health authorities of two countries for approval to open his own clinic, adding that Omni Medical in Dubai is Cells4Health's agent for the storage of cord blood cells.

The doctor attributed the incidents involving the children to the surgery itself, not the stem cells. "The needle caused a bleeding and is known as a risk for brain surgery," he said. "We treat severely ill patients and not [those with] simple headaches. The authorities did not close our labs but we were not allowed to bring the cells into the market."

Dr Kleinbloesem said stem cells furnished by his company were processed at Precious Cells International in London.

Dr Husein Salem, Precious Cells' founder, denied that his company was affiliated with Cells4Health.

"About one month ago we met with representatives from Cells4Health but after requesting them to show us documents of approval from the Ministry of Health, we never received them," said Dr Salem. "Given the recent incidents we decided it would be better for our company and our clients that we do not associate with them."

According to the Cells4Health website, all treatments are performed under the supervision of Professor Antoine Nachanakian, a neurosurgeon at Saint George Hospital in Beirut.

Prof Nachanakian said he was not associated with the facility. He said he was approached by Dr Kleinbloesem nearly six months ago but "nothing took place formally".

"It was only a casual discussion over dinner. I didn't look into the matter further because there was nothing official between us," he said. "Since then, I haven't heard anything from them. And given this information, I wouldn't want to."

mismail@thenational.ae