From Stem Cells to the Multi-level Marketing of Diet Patches?


It’s been a while since I have posted on US Stem Cell and its chief scientific officer Kristen Comella. In fact, I would have probably forgotten about her at this juncture if not for a recent widely distributed diet patch email. Let’s dig in.

What Is US Stem Cell and Who is Kristen Comella?

I’ve blogged several times on this interesting story. US Stem cell was a company making adipose SVF treatment kits and training doctors to treat a panoply of incurable diseases. Its chief scientific officer was Kristen Comella, someone who used to pitch these treatments.

SVF means Stromal Vascular Fraction, which is made by digesting adipose tissue and breaking the cells free of their collagen bonds. A small fraction of those are stem cells. So SVF is a type of stem cell type treatment derived from fat.

US Stem Cell and Comella pushed the narrative for years that the FDA permitted SVF to be used to treat everything from knee arthritis to ALS. However, in 2017, the FDA burst that bubble by sending the company and Ms. Comella a Warning Letter stating that SVF needed its approval as a drug before use. Many of us who were watching had known this was the case for years, so it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. In short order, the company was sued by the agency and eventually fought that decision, only to lose the case.

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A Fake Ph.D.?

Perhaps one of the most bizarre things I have observed in the stem cell wild west is the Kristen Comella “Ph.D.” saga. She began with a legit master’s degree. Based on what I observed, it was tough being called “Chief Scientific Officer” without a doctorate level degree, so IMHO she enrolled in a Ph.D. program at FIU to rectify that problem. This lasted several years, then suddenly, she pulled out of FIU, and that same year was granted a Ph.D. from the “Panama College of Cell Science”. What’s that? Film-maker Doug Orchard explored that in his movie “From Jail Cell to Stem Cell”. Basically, Doug tried to find this university and it wasn’t where it claimed, which is in a small village in the jungles of Panama. In fact, based on what he exposed in the movie, it appears to be a fictitious institution or at least one that’s not what it claims. Eventually, US Stem cell jettisoned Comella as its CSO. 

From Stem Cells to Diet Patches?

This email was sent to me by a colleague, which was sent to him by no other than Kristen Comella:

“Let me start by addressing the DFT Patch.*

You’ve seen it on my arm, shoulder, calf, or thigh. I’m never without it. The transdermal patch I, my staff, my colleagues, my patients, and my clients wear is a vital part of a 3-part system for optimizing gut health, energy, and metabolism. I refer to it as the world’s greatest nutritional biohack, and if you’re not using it, you at the very least need to find out more.

The THRIVE system is unlike anything I’ve ever seen as it fills in the nutritional gaps that leave so many moving away from health.

I’m inviting you to join me, along with my friend and business partner Phil Kaplan, for our first Zoom call of 2022. We’ll share insights to help you determine whether this simple system, which also includes capsules and a light delicious shake, is for you.”

First, IMHO it’s very disturbing that Comella signs this email, “Dr. Kristen Comella” and writes in the email, that she used this diet patch in her “patients”. I searched the State of Florida Department of Regulatory Agencies website and could find no medical provider credentials and/or license for Comella. Also interesting is that on her Linkedin page, she has no medical or healthcare degree. For those that don’t know, getting a “Ph.D.” in biology provides you no ability to get licensed to treat patients as it’s merely an academic distinction.

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What Is the DFT Patch?

This is from a New Zealand website about the DFT Patch:

“A weight-loss patch is drawing criticism for making unsupported claims and for containing unspecified quantities of ingredients which can be dangerous if misused.

The Thrive DFT is a sticker worn on the upper arm which is said to suppress appetite and improve energy. It is marketed alongside a protein shake mix and supplements – “the Thrive experience” – at a cost of between $143 and upwards of $200 a month.

The products are sold by American company Le-Vel and are available locally via home-based distributors, using a multi-level marketing scheme similar to Isagenix and Herbalife.”

While there are many testimonials on Facebook that claim miraculous weight loss, the fact that the Thrive system is a multi-level marketing program IMHO makes those hard to interpret. Meaning how many of its fans are part of the commission chain seen in MLM businesses? So I dug deeper. The system apparently contains stimulants like caffeine. I found this article from an online mag called “Talking Points Memo”. Here are some user quotes about the Thrive diet system from the article:

“It is basically legalized crack,” writes one former distributor on a forum. “I’ve never been down right drunk, and never been a drug user, but I’m assuming that this might be what it feels like to come off of some kind of heavy drug,” writes another. Claims a third, “Literally would get lost leaving my home going to the post office (this has never happend before). By day 5 & 6 I was slurring all day-i couldn’t make it stop.” Others complain of chest pain, blood-pressure spikes, heart palpitations and trips to the ER for caffeine overdose.”

Is this system the best thing since sliced bread? Who knows. However, I think the idea of a former stem cell “scientist” who used to push SVF to treat numerous incurable diseases now hawking a diet patch is more interesting.

The upshot? You can’t make this stuff up. We have a former CSO of US Stem Cell who got a Ph.D. from a place located in the jungles of Panama who has gone from hawking stem cells to treat incurable neurologic disease to now hawking a diet patch sold through multi-level marketing. Yikes!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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