Arizona Naturopathic Doctor Pleads Guilty to Selling Stem Cells

Aug 24, 2011   

On August 18, 2011, Fredda Branyon, a naturopathic physician in Arizona, entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorneys Office in Houston, Texas regarding charges of illegally selling stem cells. In late July, prosecutors filed charges against Ms. Branyon for allegedly selling stem cells in violation various federal law. In the charging document, the government alleged that Branyon, the operator of a clinic in Scottsdale, engaged in a conspiracy whereby she caused the stem cells to be introduced into interstate commerce in violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). Additionally, Branyon was charged with ten counts of mail fraud, one for each shipment of stem cells from her clinic in Arizona into the State of Texas. Violations of the FDCA are punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment while violations of the mail fraud statute are punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment. According to the plea agreement, Branyon pled guilty to just one charge of violating the FDCA. The rest of the charges will be dismissed at her sentencing hearing. The plea agreement can be reviewed by clicking here.

As discussed in the plea agreement, Branyon had been purchasing umbilical cord tissue (from which the cells were derived) from a birthing facility, where new mothers donated their cord blood for research purposes. After purchasing the donated tissue, Branyon recruited the services of a medical school professor, who then obtained the cells from the cord blood. Having in her possession viable stem cells, Branyon then entered into an arrangement with a Texas medical clinic to supply it with stem cells. While the arrangement on its face stated that the cells were “for research purposes only,” the plea agreement states that Branyon knew the cells were to be used to treat patients. In addition to the sale of the cells, the plea agreement emphasizes that Branyon had been operating various websites whereby she had advertised these stem cells for the treatment of certain diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS).

Branyon, according to the plea agreement, also agreed to cooperate with the government against others involved with violations of the law.

Under the FDCA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, it is against federal law to cause an unapproved new drug to be shipped into interstate commerce. The FDA has recently asserted that stem cells that are removed from the body for medical treatment of a patient are a new “drug”.  Fuerst Ittleman has attorneys with great experience in representing medical professionals and others involved in the use of human stem cells for the medical treatment of a variety of physical ailments. The regulation of stem cells and their usage is an evolving area of the law in which Fuerst Ittleman is deeply involved and constantly monitoring.