7 year ban for doctor who used stem cells to treat neurological conditions

By Michael Woodhead

6 Nov 2019

A NSW doctor who ran a clinic providing expensive and unproven stem cell therapy for neurological conditions has been banned for seven years.

Dr Ralph Bright had his 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 conditions including vestibular disorders, motor neurone disease (MND) and dementia.

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 ‘regenerative’ stem cell therapy for numerous degenerative condition, chronic pain 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 with dementia 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 case related to was stem cell therapy that was “experimental and had no known efficacy or benefit for the patient’s condition of bilateral vestibular dysfunction (BVD).

The tribunal also heard of several other cases where Dr Bright inappropriately prescribed unproven peptide substances for three patients, including one with MND, claiming they would help muscle weakness.

It noted a report from the coroner investigating the fatal incident with stem cell therapy, which stated: “While all medical and surgical procedures necessarily start off experimentally, there is a world of difference between rigorously and ethically conducted clinical trials that are reviewed at every stage by qualified peers and this procedure, which, in relation to the treatment of dementia at least, has some of the troubling hallmarks of ‘quack’ medicine; desperate patients, pseudo-science and large amount of money being charged for unproven therapies.”

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 quackery, 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.

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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