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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The stem cell industry is booming in the U.S., and while some legitimate medical uses have been discovered, there's also a thriving shadow industry offering poorly understood products without much regulation, ProPublica and the New Yorker report.

The big picture: The number of specialized clinics offering unproven stem cell treatments has grown from 12 in 2009 to more than 700 in 2017, according to one tally.

  • Globally, unproven cellular therapies are a $2 billion enterprise, according to a recent study.

Why it matters: Patients are paying thousands of dollars for care that is unproven and largely unregulated.

  • Sometimes, that's just a waste of money. But in some cases, patients who have turned to these clinics for help have walked away harmed.

One trend is doctors touting the (unproven) healing power of amniotic stem cells, which don't have to be harvested from a patient's own body.

  • Instead, they're conveniently obtained via donation after women give birth.
  • An amniotic stem cell injection into a joint can cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Intravenous administration may cost more than $10,000 per session.
  • There's not much data or research on these treatments, because they don't undergo the clinical trials required for approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The bottom line: The investigation "found disgraced doctors who were recast as salespeople, manufacturers that cloaked themselves in pseudoscience and had few scientists on staff, and clinics that offer to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis or kidney disease without specialized training," ProPublica’s Caroline Chen writes.

  • "Unscientific methods, deceptive marketing, price gouging and disregard for patients' well-being were rampant across the amniotic stem cell therapy industry."

Go deeper: Unregulated stem cell therapies listed on government database

Go deeper

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.

Updated 8 hours ago - World

Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.