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Lung Institute found guilty of selling patients 'sham' stem cell treatment for incurable lung disease

Nearly decade-long class action nets more than $9 million verdict for consumers
Posted at 5:03 PM, Jun 28, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa jury recently found the now-defunct Lung Institute in Tampa guilty of engaging in “deceptive or unfair practices” while it offered customers “valueless” stem cell therapy to treat incurable lung disease.

Industry insiders call the unanimous verdict, which was handed down earlier this month in Tampa, a landmark case in the fight to end misleading, unregulated and potentially risky stem cell therapy.

“I’m very happy because I do hope that nobody else is swindled the way I was,” said 85-year-old Marilyn Mazza in response to the verdict.

Ten years ago Mazza, who suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, spent nearly $20,000 on stem cell treatments at the Institute after hearing an advertisement about it on television. Mazza is one of three named plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, which was originally filed against the company back in 2016.

“They promised that I would be off oxygen after I did their procedures, and I am definitely not off oxygen. I'm on four liters now [per minute],” explained Mazza.

As a result, Mazza joins more than 1,000 patients nationwide who are set to get refunds following $9 million verdict, with some patient refunds nearing $30,000. The jury verdict represents one of the costliest judgments against a for-profit stem cell clinic in U.S. history.

The lawsuit centered around the company’s Tampa location. Patients claimed between mid-2013 and mid-2016, the clinic offered them “sham treatments” based on “sham science and deception” according to the original complaint.

Since 2018, we’ve shared some of their stories. The desperate, diseased and dying who claimed they fell victim to the Lung Institute’s aggressive marketing tactics and boiler room-style sell of unproven stem cell therapy.


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“It seemed like the day I had it, I started to get worse,” Maureen Rosen told us back in 2018. The former patient spent $7,500 on treatment for her incurable lung disease.

Rosen died a few years after our interview.

Tammy Rivero told us how she took a lien out on her home to pay for her $8,000 treatment, which she said ultimately did nothing to improve her health.

“I think it’s a bunch of bullshit,” she told us in 2020.

And in 2018, Dorothy Carver shared with us how her husband, William, died of a heart attack just months after he also sought treatment at the clinic for incurable lung disease.

“He didn’t improve at all, it just really got worse,” she told us at the time.

Carver didn’t know about the recent verdict until we told her.

“That’s great news,” she said in response. “It brings some closure but there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him and miss him though."

“We certainly tried to scream from the mountaintops about what was going on,” explained attorney Ben Vinson Jr., who represented the victims. “What came out in trial was all they were doing was taking out blood, spinning it around and putting it back in."

At one point, the Lung Institute had about a half dozen locations nationwide. The Tampa location was considered its base. The clinics have since shut down following pending legal troubles and media scrutiny.

While neither the Lung Institute nor its attorneys have responded to our repeated requests for comment about the verdict, in closing arguments, attorneys tried to argue they weren’t required to tell customers they didn’t conduct clinical trials to prove their treatments worked. Attorneys also argued that customers signed waivers consenting to their treatments.

Medical ethicists believe this Florida case and its multi-million-dollar verdict is a reminder to consumers about an industry with promise but not yet the evidence to treat widespread diseases and disorders.

“There's enough evidence to do them in clinical studies, but we shouldn't think of these as treatments to be sold in the marketplace just yet,” explained Dr. Leigh Turner, a medical ethicist at the UCI School of Public Health in Irvine, California, who also provided testimony on behalf of the patients.

Turner hopes the Lung Institute judgment also cools the market of for-profit stem cell clinics, which had exploded over the past decade.

“We'll see whether this has an impact. One thing I can say is that I'm hopeful that this is an outcome, not just for the individuals who are part of the class action, but that it does play this kind of a broader role in terms of letting people know how they can be taken advantage of and helping people make more informed decisions and getting some of the bad operators out of the marketplace,” he said.

It's a lesson Dorothy Carver and Marilyn Mazza spent thousands of dollars to learn and nearly a decade fighting to prove.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” said Carver. “Every time I see something about stem cells, I just block it out in my mind. I don't want anything to do with it."

“I believe in the future stem cells may be very helpful, but this was a scam. There was no legitimate help to us,” said Mazza.

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