Paraplegic gets nod to sue stem cell pair

By Fatima Schroeder Time of article published Nov 20, 2006

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Justine Asher, 35, a paraplegic who was told she could undergo a miracle cure called stem cell therapy for R120 000 to be able to walk again, has been given the go-ahead to sue the Cape Town businessman and his American girlfriend who formulated the "unsafe" and "untested" treatment.

The couple, Stephen van Rooyen and Laura Brown are on the FBI's wanted list in the US and face a 51-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Atlanta in March. The US has applied for their extradition, but they are opposing it.

The couple's US-based company Biomark International was shut down in the US in 2003, but the couple came to South Africa and set up an office, trading under the name Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT).

Potential clients are led to believe that ACT is based in Zurich, Switzerland, but ACT operates from a medical suite in Hout Bay.

ACT staff have been instructed to tell outsiders there was no association between Biomark and ACT.

On Friday, Asher brought a High Court application against Brown, asking the court for an order allowing the sheriff to attach the couple's property in Hout Bay and Clifton pending the finalisation of an action she intends to institute against them.

She also wanted the court to rule that it had the jurisdiction to hear the case even though Brown was an American citizen.

In an affidavit, Asher said she had broken her neck in a collision, leaving her paraplegic. She heard about ACT and made email contact.

She underwent the procedure in Rotterdam last November, paying R120 000.

Asher said the treatment entailed a saline drip. A cocktail, which included bovine cells, was injected close to the injury and a small vial of stem cells into her arm.

When she returned to SA she spoke to a former ACT employee Catherine Orridge, who said she conducted her own research and discovered the cells had been cultured in foetal bovine serum.

Asher is now traumatised by the fact that she may have contracted HIV or another disease. The treatment has not improved her condition. The court gave Brown a chance to oppose the matter on December 19.

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