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roshni
09-18-2006, 02:57 PM
Couple wanted in US to face charges

September 18, 2006 Edition 1

Stephen van Rooyen and Laura Brown paint themselves as modern-day pioneers who successfully treat illnesses like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

The United States's FBI, however, wants to jail them, saying they are fraudsters who use stem cells meant for animal research on their human patients.

President George Bush has described the research as "crossing a moral boundary" and US authorities have called on the National Prosecuting Authority to assist in extraditing Van Rooyen, 44, and Brown, 35, accusing them of defrauding people suffering from incurable diseases by offering them controversial stem cell treatment.

The glamorous couple, who allegedly charge their customers about R180 000 for a single shot of stem cells, are also charged with wire fraud and selling misbranded drugs in the US.

Van Rooyen said that since 2001 they had treated about 800 people. While living in the US, Van Rooyen and Brown ran a company specialising in stem cell treatment called Biomark. In 2003, they relocated to South Africa and changed their company's name to Advanced Cell Therapeutics (ACT).

South African-born Van Rooyen and his American wife - who face the possibility of a 40-year jail sentence if sent back to the US - are due to appear for their next extradition hearing on October 6.

According to the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Van Rooyen and Brown, through Biomark, misled vulnerable and sick people by offering them "cures" for ailments.

"Biomark claimed to treat diseases through the use of stem cells derived from cord blood for a fee ranging from $10 000 to $32 000 (R70 000 to R224 000). The claims by Biomark were false and misleading," the American affidavit reads.

The FBI says the stem cells the couple were using were earmarked for animal research.

Through their investigation, the FBI and FDA found that between 2003 and 2004, Van Rooyen and Brown allegedly received about R8.4 million from patients.

In March this year, after a five-year investigation, an Atlanta grand jury handed down a 51-count indictment against the pair. Now the US, through its South African counterparts, is seeking to extradite them to the US to face the charges.