Seven year ban for stem cell “quack medicine” doctor

A NSW doctor who ran a clinic providing expensive and unproven stem cell treatments for osteoarthritis has been banned for life.

Dr Ralph Bright has received a seven year suspension from the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of NSW, which found him guilty of professional misconduct for offering “quack medicine” stem cell treatments and peptide preparations for patients with OA, vascular dementia and neurological conditions.

In a highly critical verdict on his practice at Macquarie Stem Cells, the tribunal concluded that Dr Bright had shown a “reckless disregard for patient safety”, and said the ban meant it was unlikely that he would again be eligible for registration, given his age.

Dr Bright’s controversial Liverpool-based private clinic has been promoting stem cell treatments for conditions  such as osteoarthritis, joint degeneration in athletes and multiple sclerosis at costs reported to be $9000 or more.

The tribunal upheld five complaints brought by the Health Care Complaints Commission, including one based on the death of a 75-year old woman on whom Dr Bright performed a liposuction stem cell procedure in 2013.

A report by expert witness Professor Colin Masters stated that it was “completely inappropriate and unethical” of Dr Bright to administer autologous adipose tissue-derived stem cells to a frail elderly patient when there was no evidence of scientific evidence of likely benefit, and a high risk of an adverse outcome.

Another expert report by Dr Christopher Juttner of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia, stated that stem cell therapy had not been proven to be effective in osteoarthritis.

The tribunal also heard of several other cases where Dr Bright inappropriately prescribed unproven peptide substances for three patients, claiming they would help regeneration.

Dr Bright denied any misconduct or unprofessional behaviour and did not attend the tribunal to address the complaints. The tribunal said it agreed with the coroner’s ruling that the treatments were effectively “quack medicine”, and concluded that Dr Bright’s  conduct fell well below any standard of care expected of a medical practitioner.

It ordered his medical registration  be cancelled for seven years, noting that he had already surrendered his registration in August 2019.

Concerns about Dr Bright’s stem cell therapy have been raised for several years, including an ABC report that heard from rheumatologist Dr Patrick Hanrahan that one of his patients had paid $17,000 for treatment that caused worsening her rheumatoid arthritis.

“The effect of having this stem cell therapy was extremely detrimental to [the patient’s] health, predominantly because as part of the procedure she was obliged to stop the conventional medication I’d been giving her,” he told Radio National in 2016.

“Her disease went generally right out of control. She had wide spread swelling, pain, stiffness [in] her hands, wrists, shoulders, feet. Every joint in her body seemed to flare up and she went backwards considerably.”

In 2015 the TGA started a review of autologous stem cell treatments which led in 2019 to tighter regulation of their use and advertising to the public.

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