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Florida suspends doctor accused of illegal stem cell therapy

By David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin, Special Investigations Unit
updated 9:23 PM EST, Thu March 8, 2012
Dr. Zannos Grekos, seen here in 2009, could have his license suspended.
Dr. Zannos Grekos, seen here in 2009, could have his license suspended.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Florida suspends a doctor's license after he allegedly performed illegal stem cell therapy
  • The patient died during the procedure
  • "We are cooperating with all authorities," Grekos says
  • Grekos told CNN in 2009 that he sent his patients' blood to Israel to create life-saving cells

(CNN) -- A Florida cardiologist could have his medical license revoked by state authorities who have accused him of performing illegal stem cell therapy on a patient who died during the procedure.

Florida's Department of Health ordered the emergency suspension of Zannos Grekos' medical license Wednesday, accusing the Bonita Springs doctor of violating an emergency order against using stem cell treatments in Florida and causing the death of an unidentified elderly patient. Grekos can appeal the order.

According to the license suspension order, Grekos performed a stem cell treatment this month on the patient, who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary fibrosis. Both diseases restrict blood flow to the heart.

"During said stem cell treatment, patient R.P. suffered a cardiac arrest and died," the suspension order said.

CNN first investigated Grekos' activities in 2009, when he said he was using stem cell therapy for a company called Regenocyte Therapeutic. His profile, listed on the company's website, describes Grekos as having "extensive experience in the field of stem cell therapy" and says he "was recently appointed to the Science Advisory Board of the United States' Repair Stem Cell Institute."

At the time of CNN's interview, Grekos said he extracted stem cells from patients and then sent the blood to Israel for laboratory processing. That processing, he said, resulted in "regenocytes," which he said would help heal crippling diseases, mostly associated with lung problems.

Watch CNN's 2009 report on Grekos

The president of the International Society of Stem Cell Research, Dr. Irving Weissman, told CNN at the time that "there is no such cell."

"There is nothing called a regenocyte," he said.

After CNN's initial report, Grekos said the name was "advertising" and was not intended to be scientific.

Officials from the Florida Department of Health told CNN they had been seeking to revoke Grekos' license through an administrative hearing process. That hearing, originally scheduled for this month, was pushed back until June because Grekos had changed attorneys.

In February 2011, Florida officials imposed an emergency restriction order that prevented Grekos from using stem cells in any treatment after he allegedly performed stem cell therapy on a 69-year-old woman, who later died, according to state health officials.

"By such action, Dr. Grekos has demonstrated a disconcerting disregard for the duties and responsibilities imposed upon a physician practicing in the State of Florida and for the health and welfare of his patients and the citizens of Florida," states the suspension order, dated Wednesday.

In a statement issued by his publicist, Stanton Smith, Grekos said about patient R.P., "My family and I are deeply saddened by this devastating loss."

Smith said recent news coverage regarding the incident had been inaccurate. In a news release, he said Grekos "has not performed any 'illegal stem cell therapy.'"

"An official investigation is under way and we are fully cooperating with all authorities," Grekos says in the news release. "We look forward to a thorough and exhaustive investigation of the facts."

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