Live Sheep Cell Injections? CDC Says 'Bah'

Live cell therapy--an unproven treatment involving injections of live fetal cells from sheep--is legal in Germany. A group of New Yorkers who went there to make them younger and healthier got Q fever instead, the CDC reports.

A group of New Yorkers seeking rejuvenation with sheep cell injections at a German clinic came home with Q fever instead.

This "live cell therapy" is not available in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be dangerous, and, contrary to promises by German practitioners, the treatment ended badly for a five New York State residents who last year came down with Q fever after traveling to Rhineland-Palatine where they got the sheep shots.

One site for the German Centre for Fresh Cell Therapy says the treatment helped “Pope Pius XII, Emperor Hirohito, Emperor Haile Selassi, King Ibn Saud, Konrad Adenauer, Charlie Chaplin,” (all of whom are dead) and many more.

The CDC, reporting in the current issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said the infections came to light through the German physician's center. After being informed that a traveler from Canada had been stricken with Q fever after getting the shots, the physician notified the five New Yorkers that they could be infected. The flock from which the cells were obtained had earlier been linked to human cases of Q fever there.

When located by US health officials, three travelers had already sought medical treatment and two said they had been ill but not gone to a doctor. They were tested and the results were analyzed by the New York State Department of Health. All were positive for the organism that causes Q fever, C. burnetii. All had received fetal sheep cells. Investigators learned that another five to 10 people had also been in the group that traveled to Germany to get the injections but were lost to followup, the CDC said.

The patients who became ill, ages 59 to 83, included one with preexisting atrial fibrillation and kidney stones, one with Parkinson disease, and one with multiple sclerosis. All had fatigue, sweats, and difficulty sleeping. Symptoms lasted as long as 90 days. In interviews with health officials they said that they were part of a group that had traveled to Germany for the injections for the past five years “to improve their general health and vitality.”

The live cell treatments were developed in the 1930s by German practitioner Paul Niehans. The practice can involve injections of cells from organs, glands, and fetuse of non-human animals. The cells can be taken from sheep, cows, and sharks, the CDC said, referring to information at a California site.

On that site the advice is that “shark embryo cells seem to be vastly superior to sheep embryo cells.”

The CDC notes that no published clinical evidence has ever supported the claims, though the "live cell" treatment has been advertised as successful for erectile dysfunction, neurological ailments, and conditions involving the heart, kidney, lungs, liver and endocrine system. “Serious adverse events have been reported” including death, the CDC said.