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Embattled Bioethicist Leaves Texas Stem Cell Company

1 March 2012 4:52 pm
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The American Journal of Bioethics

Glenn McGee

A prominent bioethicist yesterday resigned from a Texas company that processes and stores adult stem cells for use in medical treatments. It's the latest development in an ongoing controversy about Glenn McGee's professional activities.

McGee is the founder and until recently the editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB), the field's most-cited journal. In December, he also took a job as president for ethics and strategic initiatives at CellTex Therapeutics in Houston, Texas. The company licenses technology from a controversial South Korean company, RNL Bio, that treats patients with various medical conditions outside the United States with adult stem cells processed from the patients' own fat cells. Such treatments are considered experimental and have not been approved for routine use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or by regulators in South Korea.

Former Republican presidential candidate, and current Texas governor, Rick Perry is apparently a fan of such treatments. Last summer he received an injection of his own stem cells for a back problem. The Texas Medical Board is developing new rules that would allow physicians in the state to give their patients adult stem cell treatments if the procedure has approval from a local ethics board.

Last month some media reports suggested that McGee's employment with CellTex posed a conflict of interest with his AJOB duties and questioned the appointment of McGee's wife, Summer Johnson McGee, as the journal's new co-editor-in-chief (see Inside Higher Ed, Nature). (AJOB's other new co-editor, Stanford University's David Magnus, wrote in response on the journal's blog, bioethics.net, that McGee had been an adviser since November and that a plan for Magnus and Johnson McGee to take over on 1 March had been moved up to 13 February.)

The controversy took another twist after Nature reported yesterday that a physician in Texas has been injecting patients with stem cells prepared by CellTex, probably illegally. Later that day, as first reported on Retraction Watch, McGee announced on Twitter that he's stepping down from the company: "Enough. I resigned from #Celltex Therapeutics on & effective 2/28/2012. I am preparing timely, lengthy, pointed comments on the whole matter."

In a related development, Slate yesterday retracted an article by University of Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliot that criticized McGee's involvement with CellTex. "The article did not meet Slate's standards for verification and fairness and should not have been published," according to Slate.

Elliot told Retraction Watch that the magazine was threatened with a lawsuit. An e-mail posted online dated 20 February that is allegedly from CellTex CEO David Eller to Slate claims that Elliot's article "contains serious factual inaccuracies that should be corrected [sic] indeed, you should pull the article down entirely." Among the supposed accuracies is the claim that the AJOB shares the same address as CellTex's lab in Sugar Land, Texas (the journal's address is in Houston) and the statement that CellTex is a "stem cell clinic."