Paper on controversial stem cell “stamina therapy” retracted

12/21/2015 11:35

by Cat Ferguson


A Korean stem cell journal has retracted a paper on a controversial Italian treatment that involves harvesting stem cells from bone marrow and injecting them back into the patient.

Stamina therapy” has been pitched as a treatment for everything from Parkinson’s disease to coma, based on a U.S. patent application filed in 2010. The Italian government pledged about $3.9 million in 2013 to support a clinical trial for stamina therapy. More than 100 people signed up for the trials, with a wide range of neurological ailments; half were children.


However, allegations of fraud led to a criminal investigation into the Stamina Foundation’s leader, psychologist David Vannoni, as well as 17 other members of the organization.


Stamina therapy proponents claim that stem cells from bone marrow can be manipulated to turn into nerve cells and heal dozens of neurological diseases, but there’s little peer reviewed evidence that supports this. Vannoni’s only publication on the therapy was the patent application, which provided few details and was rejected by the U.S. Patent Office.

Stem cell researcher Olena Shchegelska later determined that figures used in the patent application were lifted from a 2006 publication of hers, without attribution.


In November of this year the government stopped the clinical trials from moving forward. From Wired’s Italian site, via Google Translate:


In particular, the Scientific Committee has unanimously rejected the method, also stating that “it is not appropriate because the cells produced […] do not meet the requirements necessary to define them as ‘therapeutic’ , that the protocols do not meet the basic requirements for a clinical trial, the protocol and the method Stamina does not have the necessary requirements to perform a clinical trial, including the assessment of safety and efficacy and therefore the conditions for the start of a trial with the aforementioned method, with particular reference to the safety of the patient.”


The Korean stem cell journal, the International Journal of Stem Cells, published the paper, “Stem Cells and Niemann Pick Disease,” in May 2014, a year after the Italian government first began questioning the treatment. It was retracted on November 7, with a notice that gave absolutely no details about what led up to the withdrawal.


The notice simply says: This article has been retracted at the authors’ request.

One of the primary concerns with stamina therapy is the lack of peer-reviewed data supporting its use, so the retraction of this paper, by Stamina Foundation vice president Marino Andolina, who was also investigated for fraud involving the treatment, is hardly surprising.


The paper has only been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, by a letter to the editor in Nature about a correction to a news story about the therapy in Nature.


We’ve reached out to both the journal and to Andolina, and will update if we find out what happened.



Fraud fells Alzheimer's "made to order" neurons paper in Cell April 11, 2014 In "cell"


Stem cell retraction leaves grad student in limbo, reveals tangled web of industry-academic ties December 27, 2012 In "australia retractions"


Stem cell researcher in Korea up to half a dozen retractions April 17, 2014 In "behind a paywall"