How a small clinic in the Dominican Republic is using adult stem cells to offer patients hope
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, February 20, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Most Americans know the Dominican Republic as a beach paradise – an up-and-coming destination for honeymooners and family vacations. But for a growing number of seriously ill patients for whom conventional treatments have failed, the tiny Catholic nation has become known as something else: a source of hope.
In the capital city of Santo Domingo, the RegenCenter began offering alternative treatments using adult stem cells in 2009. According to RegenCenter founder Dr. Gene Anthony, the clinic has treated patients with autism, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and numerous other ailments, often with incredible success.
“We’ve seen some really fabulous results,” Anthony told LifeSiteNews. “[Autistic] kids who are just very self-injurious, banging their heads up against the wall, just totally unmanageable … have been saved from being institutionalized. … We’ve seen Alzheimer’s – early stage, but still significant – stopped in its tracks and turned around, the deficits totally eradicated.”
Stem cells – undifferentiated cells which can become other types of cells – have long been billed as the future of medicine. While U.S. scientists have largely focused their research efforts on embryonic stem cells taken from aborted babies or abandoned embryos leftover from the IVF process, it is adult stem cells that have shown the most promise. Embryonic stem cells excite scientists because they are “creator” cells that can be coaxed to develop into almost anything, but that’s the very same reason they’re risky to implant into humans – sometimes they develop into tumors instead. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are merely “repair” cells with a limited range of transformation – and when taken from the patient’s own body, there is no risk of rejection.
If the results are so good, why isn’t more research focused on adult stem cells, and why aren’t treatments more widely available? Why must Americans travel outside of the country to obtain services like the doctors at RegenCenter provide?
Dr. Anthony blames, at least in part, both the abortion industry and the assisted fertility industry.
“The fact of the matter is, there’s a huge lobby that doesn’t want adult stem cells,” said Anthony. “You’ve got the abortion industry – it’s not enough that they kill these poor babies, that’s not enough blood money for them; they want to sell off their parts. And they have dominated the whole debate on this. And then you have the IVF people, and they have hundreds of thousands of IVF babies in test tubes sitting there in the freezer, and they want to sell them. So they don’t want adult stem cell therapy; they don’t want to know anything about it.”
Adult stem cells have already been proven valuable in the treatment of leukemia, cirrhosis of the liver, and end-stage heart disease, and researchers say the future possibilities are almost endless.
Those possibilities were what first brought Dr. Anthony to the Dominican Republic – not as a doctor, but as a parent.
A father in search of a cure
Before he opened RegenCenter, Anthony was just another parent of a severely disabled child, desperate for a cure. His teenage daughter had suffered a lack of oxygen during her birth, resulting in lasting brain damage and cerebral palsy. The family had tried everything – Western medicine, alternative treatments, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy – hoping for results. Then they heard about a clinic in the Dominican Republic offering stem cell therapy.
“We were in India, evangelical missionaries,” Anthony told LifeSiteNews. “I did post-doctoral studies there and did my best to try to find help for her.” Alternative medicine, he said, “helped somewhat, but it didn’t help enough.” Hyperbaric therapy “helped a bit, but the effects wore off.”
Finally, a friend with multiple sclerosis recommended Anthony look into stem cell therapy. Anthony says he was hesitant, but just desperate enough to try it.
“All you hear about are stem cells from aborted babies,” said Anthony, who describes himself as strongly pro-life. “It takes eight to ten dead babies to make one [embryonic] stem cell treatment. It’s horrible. But I thought, ‘Maybe there’s something to stem cells, because you hear they’re used in leukemia, and they’re not using [aborted] baby cells for that.’” He began researching ethical stem cell therapies and discovered there was a lot of promising research being done using adult stem cells all over the world, as well as a few clinics worldwide that had gone beyond research and into actual practice.
One of those was in the Dominican Republic. The Anthonys decided to take their daughter there. The results of the first treatment were so good that Anthony was immediately sold on the procedure, but it was very expensive. Meanwhile, in his research, he had discovered that there was another treatment that could work in tandem with stem cell therapy to help his daughter, but the clinic didn’t offer it.
Anthony soon decided to take matters into his own hands. A holistic doctor himself, he opened his own clinic and hired medical doctors who could perform both stem cell infusions and liberation therapy, which opens constricted veins to allow greater blood flow, helping the stem cells reach their targets. Today, Anthony says he believes RegenCenter is the only clinic in the world to offer both procedures.
“There are people doing liberation therapy, and there are people doing stem cell treatments, but I’m not aware of anyone else who is doing both,” said Anthony. Often, he said, patients with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s are offered liberation therapy on its own, without stem cells. But Anthony says, “You need to do both. You do not get the regenerative effects without the adult stem cells.”
Mindful of the financial burdens already crushing many families of the severely disabled, he committed to trying to keep prices as low as possible – the dual treatments offered at RegenCenter cost less than $14,000, in contrast with other clinics that charge up to $65,000 for a single treatment.
“We try to keep the costs as low as possible because as the dad of a special needs child, I know that usually Mom is home [caring for the child], or if you’re dealing with a disabled adult … they’re not working. They’re living on one income, and just trying to make ends meet,” said Anthony. “So we keep the costs very low. For a stem cell treatment for lungs, it’s under $9,000. Anywhere else – I’ve checked around – the same treatment would be $10,000 or $12,000, and that’s for a single procedure. We’re doing a double procedure for a lot less.”
How does it work?
Adult stem cells used in RegenCenter treatments are taken from patients’ bone marrow and fat cells, minor but potentially painful procedures for which they are placed under general anesthesia. Those cells are then infused into patients’ problem areas.
Dr. Anthony explains that the stem cells “know exactly where to go” thanks to cytokines, signaling proteins Anthony calls “the body’s SOS signal.” Cytokines guide the body’s immune response to illness and injury. According to Dr. Anthony, stem cells respond to them the exact same way, honing in on damaged tissue and working to repair it.
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Although Anthony is quick to note that results vary with the condition of the patient and his clinic can’t promise miracles, he says the results he has seen in a few short years have at times been breathtaking.
He recounted one patient who had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for five years, and was virtually wheelchair bound and almost unresponsive. She was “barely able to stagger back and forth,” he said, “blind except for partial vision in one eye, and [suffering from] severe mental confusion.” After stem cell therapy, said Anthony, “She was totally turned around. Not perfect, but she can look at you, take somebody’s arm, and her mind is there, her comprehension is there.”
“These are huge things that we have seen,” Anthony added.
Some former patients seem to think of Dr. Anthony and his clinic staff as miracle workers.
Marian*, a registered nurse in North Carolina, has been to the Dominican Republic five times now with both her husband – who suffers from early-stage Alzheimer’s – and her severely autistic adult son.
Marian’s son was diagnosed early in life with autism and the family sought every available treatment in the U.S., with some promising results. But at 13 years old, he suffered a major setback. He began attending a school that was later discovered to have a mold infestation, and the mold triggered a regression in his hard-won abilities that left him barely able to move or communicate.
“He regressed to the point where he looked like he had Lou Gehrig’s disease,” said Marian. The disease, also known as ALS, is a degenerative disease that leaves its victims unable to move or speak. “He almost died. He couldn’t walk anymore, he couldn’t open his eyes, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t feed himself anymore, he became incontinent. It was mind-boggling.” The family used the same treatments as before to try and improve his condition, but even by age 20, he had yet to fully recover. That was when Marian decided to entertain the notion of stem cells.
“I had read about fetal stem cells, and I had some huge problems with it,” Marian told LifeSiteNews. “If it was the only thing that might have helped my son, I would at least consider it. But since you can get adult stem cells and get really good results with that, I will never consider fetal stem cells. It’s just not necessary.”
After learning about Dr. Anthony’s clinic online, Marian was drawn to his staunchly ethical approach. Her family traveled to the Dominican Republic and her son received the first of five infusions so far.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the stem cells helped tremendously,” Marian said. “Once we came back from that first round of stem cells,” Marian said, “his gait was improved, he was able to point to what he wanted, you could hand him a stack of boxes and say ‘Hey, can you help me take the ornaments off the Christmas tree?’ and he’d carry a stack of boxes down to the first floor, turn around, and come back up for more. It was amazing.”
With each infusion, Marian’s son continued to blossom. “After the second trip, he learned to drive [the family 4-wheeler],” she said. “After the third trip, he started taking dulcimer lessons. He can literally play a musical instrument and sing along.” He also developed a love of arts and crafts which he had never had before.
Meanwhile, Marian’s husband was beginning to show signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s. The disease had already devastated his sister, just two years older, crippling her mentally. Marian knew she couldn’t keep up with the demands of a disabled son and a disabled husband. So the next time they returned to the Dominican Republic, he received an infusion, too.
Marian says a single infusion of stem cells healed her husband completely. “Almost all the signs of Alzheimer’s went away within a couple of weeks,” said Marian. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.”
Marian isn’t the only grateful mother who was eager to share her story with LifeSiteNews. Jennifer*, a Los Angeles-area mom whose son also suffers from severe autism, credits Dr. Anthony’s clinic for her 13-year-old son’s complete turnaround. Before stem cell treatment, Matt was non-verbal, aggressive, violent, and constantly medicated. Since being treated with his own stem cells, he’s much calmer, has begun to communicate better, and has been able to come off the cocktail of psychiatric medications that his doctors previously used to try to keep his behavior under control.
Matt has received three stem cell infusions – two in the Dominican Republic using his own cells, and one at another clinic using adult donor cells. While Jennifer said the donor cells were “a complete waste of money and time,” she said that after just one treatment at Dr. Anthony’s clinic, she saw a marked improvement in her son’s behaviors.
“We actually missed our flight the first time,” Jennifer said. “He had a huge, huge meltdown at the airport.” Matt physically attacked Jennifer at the boarding gate, hitting her, tearing at her clothing and pulling her hair out in clumps. It took several adults to restrain him, and they were told they could not board the plane with him acting like that. So Jennifer was forced to sedate him and wait for the next flight.
Because of their late arrival in Santo Domingo, they went straight from the airport to the hospital. As soon as they arrived at the hospital, Matt had another meltdown, flailing, screaming and once again attacking his mother. They managed to calm him down and put him under anesthesia, then extracted the stem cells and reinfused them into his body.
“The next morning when he woke up, I had a totally different kid,” Jennifer said. “I remember he woke up late the next day,” she said, and proceeded downstairs to their hotel lobby for breakfast. There was a convention going on at the hotel, and it was very crowded and chaotic. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ I was sure he was going to have a meltdown,” Jennifer said, “but he didn’t.” They were able to navigate the crowd without incident. “Since then,” Jennifer said, “[he’s] never had any more violent incidents.”
On the plane ride home, Matt handled the hectic Santo Domingo and Miami airports without a problem. Jennifer decided not to sedate him for the flight back to L.A. to “see if it was really the stem cells” helping his behavior. She sat anxiously in her seat before takeoff, praying silently that her son wouldn’t melt down on the long flight home. As she did, she felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Matt.
“He tapped me on the arm, he looked at me, and he said, ‘Jesus loves me. Jesus heal me from autism.’ I don’t know how he knew, or if I knew he was praying. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’”
Back home, Matt’s condition has steadily improved and he has had two additional stem cell treatments. His teachers and therapists are ecstatic at his progress. One was so excited about a developmental leap Matt made in his social skills that she called Jennifer even as this story was being written just to share her joy at his newfound skills. Jennifer plans to return to the Dominican Republic in June with Matt so he can receive another infusion – a trip she says Matt is looking forward to.
“He loves it,” she said. “He keeps telling me, ‘I want to go Dominican Republic,’ saying it over and over. I show him on my calendar, it’s February now, there’s March, April, May, and in June we’re going. In June we’ll go to the Dominican Republic.”
Matt’s reply? “Pack my luggage.”
*Some names changed at request of sources in order to protect patient privacy
For more information, visit the RegenCenter website.
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