A vulnerable population
The dangerous pseudoscientific world of chronic Lyme is infamous for its veritable buffet of quackery. Essentially, a wide variety of bizarre treatments are marketed to eradicate the invaders that a “Lyme literate” charlatan has fraudulently diagnosed.
For the more woo-inclined, there is energy healing, homeopathy, and herbs. For those who want something that seems sciency, there are real drugs like long-term antimicrobials, used off-label in disturbing ways.
A treatment that doesn’t work may often wrongly get credit and produce misleading testimonials. One trial in patients who were treated for Lyme disease but still had persistent symptoms found that 40% of those receiving placebo felt better.
Additionally, “Lyme literate” charlatans will gaslight patients who feel worse on treatments, saying that this is evidence of a die off reaction, which they call a “herx”. Like most pseudoscience, the “herxing” concept exploits a kernel of truth: A Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction is a well-characterized transient symptomology that occurs within about a day of starting antibiotics for certain infections.
However, experts emphasize:
In patients treated for Lyme disease, this reaction is usually mild, self-limited, and does not recur later in therapy. Symptoms that arise later in the course of treatment should not be classified as Jarisch-Herxheimer-like reactions and do not signify microbial burden or have prognostic value.
Given the above, whether a patient improves on a treatment or worsens, patients are urged to celebrate that a treatment is surely working. And if there is still no improvement, a fake co-infection can always be blamed, necessitating further scam testing and treatment.
Basically, the buffet of chronic Lyme quackery is limited only by money and the human imagination. Prominent chronic Lyme cult member Yolanda Hadid reportedly spent over $5 million for her outlandish treatments.
In 2014, scientists documented over 30 “unorthodox alternative therapies marketed to treat Lyme disease”, including stem cell treatments. They warned:
As this study illustrates, practitioners of unorthodox alternative therapies specifically target their marketing to the group of patients who believe they have Lyme disease.
The easy accessibility to testimonials from patients, particularly in the forms of online blogs, discussion boards, and promotional materials by alternative therapy providers, can be persuasive to vulnerable populations.
The internet has democratized access to reliable health information; not until the internet era has accurate information for lay-readers, not to mention the scientific literature itself, been so accessible to the public. On the other hand, there is also a large volume of inaccurate information about Lyme disease on the internet, and this may impede some patients from making well-informed decisions about their health.
Predatory stem cell clinics run amok
Countless cure-all claims have been made about stem cells, but few treatments have been scientifically validated in humans. Much has been written about the Wild West of predatory stem cell clinics, where safety and efficacy are unknown.
Dr. David Gorski wrote in 2019:
In my estimation, every for-profit stem cell clinic is a quack clinic bilking patients with promises of the magical things they claim stem cells can do. Every. Single. One.
I’ve searched and searched, and I have yet to find a for-profit stem cell clinic that provides only science- and evidence-based treatments for a reasonable cost. I hope that one day I find one or more, but as of this writing, I have failed.
Geeta Shroff: Buyer beware
Geeta Shroff is a long-time charlatan who is known for peddling embyronic stem cell treatments for all manner of conditions, especially for patients who aren’t offered good solutions by mainstream medicine. Since at least 2005, experts have been warning about her clinic Nutech MediWorld in New Delhi, India.
In 2008, Dr. Wise Young was definitive in his assessment of Geeta Shroff:
She’s also a scam. She has no background in stem cells, has never done anything in stem cells, never published anything in stem cells, and all of a sudden she comes out with something that she claims are human embryonic stem cells. They’ve not allowed anyone to look at these things, they’ve provided no evidence that these are human embryonic stem cells.
And what is also not being published is there are multiple lawsuits against her by people who claim that she has done nothing, and there are a number of investigations. Geeta Shroff herself would take patients and tell them that she’s going to cure them — even before she sees them and examines them.
Also in 2008, Dr. Steven Novella wrote a lengthy discussion of Geeta Shroff’s shady business:
What if her treatment actually works? While this is doubtful, if this were the case then her failure to provide proper documentation and perform standard scientific testing is depriving the world of an effective treatment. If she has somehow discovered the secret to get stem cell therapy to work today for the diseases she claims she can treat, then she should share it with the world.
Sharing her methods would not only make them available to more people but it would allow medical scientists throughout the world to evaluate her treatments and perhaps figure out a way to make them even better.
There really is no legitimate excuse for the lack of transparency with such an experimental treatment. There is nothing Dr. Shroff can say in her defense – her behavior is unacceptable.
Novella does not mince words:
Dr. Shroff does not have any legitimate excuse for why she is not following proper scientific protocols. I can only think of one reason – to hide her own fraud.
Targeting victims of chronic Lyme quackery
One alleged patient of Nutech Mediworld documented her experience in an anonymous blog, detailing $60,000 AUD wasted on Geeta Shroff’s useless and painful treatments. Here’s her takeaway:
I am writing this blog to warn innocent people from getting robbed of their time and life savings or putting their parents’ house up for loan like I did to commit to Dr. Geeta Shroff’s stem cell treatment.
In my honest opinion Nutech Mediworld is a big scam. Just to note like most other Lyme disease treatments out there I have experienced, all they want to do is rob you of your money and throw you out! It’s really sad!! So many people taken advantage of.
One well-publicized testimonial for Nutech MediWorld is from their first chronic Lyme patient, Amy Scher. Dr. Harriet Hall called Scher—who makes money selling bad advice—a “gullible fantasizer” for promoting pseudoscientific fantasies like energy medicine, astrology, and muscle testing.
Like most victims of the chronic Lyme scam, Scher had a negative Lyme test, but this did not stop her from embracing the “Lyme literate” snake oil peddlers who made many appealing promises.
Scher wrote that her internet search had characterized Shroff as a “seller of snake oil,” but she still decided to try the risky stem cell treatment at Nutech. Hope is a very powerful motivator:
Doctors in America who specialize in Lyme disease couldn’t cure me, and here I am hoping a doctor who has never treated someone with this disease can.
Scher was a patient/victim of “Lyme literate” cult leader and IgeneX employee Steven Harris, MD. Harris has taken active roles with the dangerous pseudoscience groups ILADS and LymeDisease.org, and was disciplined for treating patients with intravenous garlic.
In 2010, a German chronic Lyme patient interviewed an employee of Nutech MediWorld, Dr. Sudeep Sharma.
Sharma makes many unbelievable claims, including that Nutech’s stem cells can be used for Down’s syndrome and autism. He’s essentially hyping a cure-all with “not even one single side effect”:
We have got neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, ALS, Parkinson’s, dementia, Alzheimer’s. We have spinal cord injury patients. We have diabetes mellitus patients. Any disease which is incurable or deemed as terminal, we are treating it.
There is no compelling scientific evidence to support the fantastical claims by Sharma and Nutech.
Sharma also revealed that Steven Harris sent more patients to Nutech, visited there, and invited Sharma to be trained by ILADS:
He was extremely extremely impressed. He told me like, “Listen, I think you need a little more Lyme training and you will do wonderful.” He called me there. I went for physician training program under ILADS. Worked under Dr. Steven Harris.
This appears to be a confirmation that the dangerous pseudoscience group ILADS has worked with at least one charlatan at Nutech MediWorld. It’s appalling how the “Lyme literate” encourage people to waste time and money on potentially-harmful quack treatments.
A 2019 post on the Nutech MediWorld Facebook page linked to a deceptive article by Scher and made more unbelievable claims:
The ALS Untangled patient advocacy group has been warning about Geeta Shroff’s exploitation of ALS patients for many years, and published a comprehensive report in 2011. The report describes two cases of people with ALS diagnoses being inexplicably treated with antibiotics for so-called Lyme disease at Nutech MediWorld.
Shady SPECT scans
SPECT scans are often used by quacks to generate colorful and impressive-looking views of the brain, but the results are typically as meaningless as tea leaves.
Desperate patients are being sold hope at these clinics, at a high price, at a small but real risk, and without any scientific evidence that SPECT improves patient outcome over those who receive optimum treatment without SPECT.
Nutech employee Sudeep Sharma said that they take before and after SPECT scans, which he says documents improvements. But since SPECT scans haven’t been validated, the results are essentially uninterpretable and can’t be used to claim a positive result.
Nutech MediWorld shut down?
In 2019, India adopted its New Drugs and Clinical Rules 2019, which define stem cell derived product as a regulated “new drug”. One article states that Nutech MediWorld notified patients in March 2019 that it was discontinuing stem cell treatments.
A notice was added to the Nutech web site:
Stem cell treatments are not being offered currently at our New Delhi centre due to notification of new rules by the government which are applicable to all stem cell based treatments in India.
As of December 18, 2022, there is no evidence that Nutech MediWorld gained approval for stem cell treatments, despite having years to provide evidence of safety and efficacy. An additional note on the Nutech web site states, “In-patient facility is not available currently.”
Patient story: My experience & false hope at Nutech MediWorld embryonic stem cell treatment: Beware!!
ALSUntangled: Updated assessment of Nutech MediWorld
ALSUntangled No. 11: Nu Tech Mediworld, 2011.
The Indian Express: Health ministry puts stem cell in ‘new drugs’ list, man moves court to continue treatment, 2019-04-12 (archive)
Retraction Watch: Ethical concerns arise for head of controversial stem cell clinic, 2017-10-19
National Post: From Down syndrome to ‘near normal’? New Delhi clinic makes stem cell claims that worry experts, 2017-02-05
New Scientist: Clinic claims it has used stem cells to treat Down’s syndrome, 2017-02-01
Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation: Discussion of Geeta Schroff, 2016-05-02
Prasad A. Ambivalent journeys of hope: embryonic stem cell therapy in a clinic in India. Health (London). 2014.
Forbes: Embryonic Stem Cells an Undying Lure for the Ill, CNN Doc Shows, 2012-05-21
The Globe and Mail: The stem-cell black market: Delhi doctor claims wonder cures, 2010-03-19
Science-Based Medicine: Stem Cell Therapy and the Need for Transparency, 2008-06-04
New Mobility: Dr. Wise Young on Stem Cells, 2008
Nature Medicine: Unchecked by guidelines, Indian stem cell scientists rush ahead, 2005-12-29
The Guardian: Row over doctor’s ‘miracle cures’, 2005-11-17
Rediff News: Clinic’s embryonic stem cell therapy worries govt, 2005-11-16
Braude P, et al. Stem cell therapy: hope or hype? BMJ. 2005.
Updated December 29, 2022