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Stem cell doctor Trossel faces being struck off after GMC hearing

Susan Watts | 13:12 UK time, Friday, 10 September 2010

The London doctor who carried out stem cell injections on British patients at clinics in Holland and Belgium faces being struck off at the end of the month after a panel at the General Medical Council (GMC) found this morning that his behaviour constituted "repeated and serious breaches of the essential tenets of good medical practice".

The GMC placed restrictions on Dr Robert Trossel's work as a doctor in 2007, after a Newsnight investigation in 2006 which revealed that he was injecting patients with stem cells not intended for human use, but for research purposes only.

After a lengthy hearing process, the GMC panel said today that Dr Trossel's fitness to practice as a doctor is impaired, stating that it is concerned that he had: "demonstrated little insight into the seriousness of your misconduct and the effects this may have had on your patients," adding that it was not convinced that his misconduct will not be repeated.

A decision on whether or not Dr Trossel will be "struck off" or face lesser sanctions, such as suspension, is expected at the end of September. His patients paid around £10,000 or more for stem cell injections for a variety of conditions ranging from spinal injury to multiple sclerosis. Families raided pension funds, or organised fund-raising events among friends and local communities to find the money.

The GMC case involves nine such patients, some of whom gave evidence during the hearing. Many had reached Dr Trossel after contacting a web-based company operating out of South Africa, called Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT).

Newsnight established in 2006 that ACT was run by a couple called Stephen Van Rooyen and Laura Brown, who are still wanted by the FBI for stem cell fraud under an extradition arrangement with South Africa. They failed in an appeal against that earlier this year, and patients in South Africa are currently pursuing their own case against the pair.

In April, in its "findings of fact", the GMC found that Dr Trossel was "taking unfair advantage of vulnerable patients and was therefore exploitative of them"

It ruled that he: "exaggerated the benefits of the treatment, overstated the success rate in treating patients with MS, and failed to inform patients fully of what was contained in the freeze medium in which the stem cells were delivered, namely that it contained bovine calf serum".

The panel also concluded that given Dr Trossel's state of mind and his "actual belief" at the time, his actions were "not dishonest".

The panel said Dr Trossel's offer of such treatments was "unjustifiable on the basis of the available scientific or clinical medical evidence, inappropriate, not in the best interest of the patients and was exploitative of a vulnerable patient. It was therefore an abuse of his position as a doctor".

Dr Trossel has already admitted that he did not inform some of his UK patients that he was separately injecting them with additional material which included bovine brain and spinal cord. The panel therefore found that informed consent could not have been given, an omission which the panel today described as "serious".

The doctor had earlier told the panel that he had since had a "change of heart" about stem cell therapy, and that he should have been more careful in the advice he'd given to patients about its efficacy. He also said he regretted not having followed up patients with more scrutiny.

Dr Trossel, whose wife is TV diet doctor Wendy Denning, admitted many of the facts of the case, but in his defence he has argued that he stopped injections as soon as the Newsnight investigation made the origin of the stem cells clear.


  • Comment number 1.

    "It ruled that he: "exaggerated the benefits of the treatment, overstated the success rate in treating patients with MS, and failed to inform patients fully of what was contained in the freeze medium in which the stem cells were delivered, namely that it contained bovine calf serum".

    I wish the NN team looks into this much wider, although, being realistic, I suspect you won't for fear of the cost of inevitable litigation by the major pharmaceutical companies. Both NICE and the MHRA have had a hard time regulating both on efficacy and safety, precisely because of this i.e. because it is often extremely difficult to draw a clear line which shows what is efficacious and what is safe.

    Individuals like this doctor were relatively easy targets, but given the major investigation by Parliament into the pharmaceutical industry a few years ago, I think the BBC science team could do much more in this ongoing battle against financial opportunism at the expense of the vulnerable and ignorant. Both predation and irrationality is getting steadily worse..

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    well done susan watts and nn team, protecting the vulnerable, brining the story to light, and following it to the end! well its just the begining of the next chapter for dr trossel aka the easy target, say no more, but to all those and there are many more who have been lied to,and cheated, its time to make a stand and get your money back, even if you did not give evidence, you may have a claim! togay i have fought, battled and won, tomorrow the war begins again

  • Comment number 4.

    Don't worry too much about the low frequency of posts to your blog Susan. Science isn't very popular these days, as it's too rational.

    This is, I suggest, the price of our naively having championed gender 'equality', in spite of all the evidence from science itself.

    I suggest you pick up on this theme, perhaps beginning with the associated premise that height and muscle mass is neither good nor bad, but just a feature of diversity and sexual dimorphism.

    Given that females are universally shorter than males, and given they are physically weaker too, and by biological design, my provocative question is to ask why fewer and fewer people seem to be able to grasp even the basics of statistics and diversity these days, and might that have led to some people taking advantage of them as reported in your piece?

    PS. Dimorphism is a misnomer. It's more complex than that, it's not a continuum, but a bit like that. So the question is not black and white.

  • Comment number 5.

    Susan Watts, rocks!


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