Jeremy Snyder and co-authors (not pictured) analyzed over 400 stem cell crowdfunding campaigns.

issues and experts

Crowdfunding campaigns spread misleading messages for unproven stem cell-based medical interventions

May 08, 2018

A newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds crowdfunding campaigns for unproven stem cell medical treatments underemphasize risks and exaggerate efficacy.

While stem cell therapy is proven to treat certain types of cancer and some other conditions, research of stem cell treatments for other medical conditions is on-going. Some clinics offer the use of experimental stem cell treatments that are yet to be effectively proven.

Unproven stem cell-based interventions are not typically covered by insurers. Patients seeking these treatments must purchase them directly and, due to the costs, some resort to alternative funding methods such as crowdfunding—online platforms used to solicit donations for specific causes.

“There are concerns about less reputable clinics making unsupported claims of stem cell-based treatments,” says Jeremy Snyder, professor of Health Sciences. “While crowdfunding is an avenue for patients to raise money, campaigns for these unproven interventions give misleading messages about their efficacy and risks.”

Snyder and co-authors Leigh Turner and Valorie A. Crooks analyzed 408 crowdfunding campaigns that raised approximately $1.45 million in donations for stem cell treatments. Of these campaigns, 43% claimed to be certain of the treatment’s efficacy and 30% made optimistic or hopeful claims about efficacy. All mentions of risks by the campaigns—if mentioned at all—were said to be low or none compared to alternative treatments.

“It’s not that the campaigners intend to mislead people but they are hearing messages from clinics and, in some cases, exaggerating the efficacy of these treatments,” says Snyder. “That’s the nature of crowdfunding, where campaigners have to convince donors to give by hyping the claims of the treatment.”

Snyder says that because the campaigns are emotionally engaging, the misleading statements about the treatments elicit significant funds and create dangerous perceptions of stem cell therapies.

Read the full study, “Crowdfunding for Unproven Stem Cell-Based Interventions,” here.


Jeremy Snyder, Associate Professor, Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 778.782.3258,

Leigh Turner, Associate Professor, Center for Bioethics, School of Public Health & College of Pharmacy, University of Minnesota, 612.381.6419,

Valorie A. Crooks, Professor, Geography, Simon Fraser University, 604.417.9077,

Ian Bryce, University Communications, 236-880-2187,