Bernie Marcus, cofounder of Home Depot and the company’s first CEO, suffered from bronchiectasis, a chronic lung condition that caused him to have difficulty, especially when public speaking. As a prominent businessman and active philanthropist, Bernie is a sought-after speaker. When his condition worsened and interfered with his speaking ability, he knew something had to be done. “I would get hoarse and cough ten to fifteen times every hour,” he said. “It was difficult to handle and progressively getting worse.” He went to the nation’s top respiratory hospital—National Jewish Health—where the doctors told him he would have to take antibiotics for two years to address the bacterial infection in his lungs. This treatment would do a number on his digestion, however, so he sought an alternative.
His physician recommended that he try stem cell treatment in Panama. Another good friend of Bernie’s had already been down to Panama to treat a stomach disorder that completely cleared up, so he felt comfortable with the recommendation.
Bernie was treated with stem cells and shortly thereafter stopped coughing and was able to return to his work. “I was able to go back to public speaking without embarrassing myself,” he said. The next time he came down for treatment he brought his wife, who had two osteoarthritic knees that her orthopedic doctor recommended be replaced. “As you know, total knee replacement means being out of action for six months per knee, which would mean a year of not being able to do the things she likes to do,” Bernie said. “She’s a very active woman.”
So he brought her to Panama for stem cell treatment. “We had to carry her onto the plane because she couldn’t take any steps at all without tremendous pain.” Just three weeks aft er her treatment she was back to playing golf four times a week with no pain. Fourteen months later she is still doing well. “When I go down again I’m going to take her with me to double up so it doesn’t happen again,” Bernie said.
My experiences in Panama have really moved me to try and get stem cells into the United States. I don’t know where it’s not going to be useful. The work in Panama is proving to be a blessing in disguise for a lot of people. It’s the opening of a new era, and especially umbilical cord stem cells.
When two more of Bernie’s friends came down to treat back pain after undergoing back surgery and experienced amazing recoveries, Bernie knew that stem cell treatment was a worthwhile investment. “Both were crippled, in pain 24 hours a day, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t lie down—and both had orthopedic doctors who said stem cell treatment wouldn’t help,” said Bernie. “They were reluctant to come to Panama, but they didn’t want surgery. Today, both of them are functioning very, very well. They are both without pain, able to function normally, and are playing golf again without the painful aftermath they experienced before.”
When Bernie later returned to National Jewish Health, the doctors were amazed to discover that his bacterial infection, which never really goes away in patients with bronchiectasis, was almost undetectable. And he felt much better. “My symptomatology has improved 90 percent,” he says.
I believe that Bernie’s bacterial infection was impacted by a particular protein known as LL-37, originally discovered by Stanford University scientists. LL-37 is secreted by mesenchymal stem cells and has been found to be one of the most powerful antimicrobials around. Younger MSCs produce more LL-37. Th e stem cells Bernie received may have produced enough LL-37 to kill off the bacteria in his lungs.
We actually tested the antimicrobial effect of our MSCs in the lab. We inoculated our MSCs with Staphylococcus bacteria in a petri dish. What we found was a zone of inhibition around each of the cells where the bacteria could not grow. The cells were protected from the bacteria, which I believe is due to the LL-37 they secrete.
A group from Russia published a study of a group of 27 patients with untreatable, drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection who were treated with their own bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells.1 Every patient experienced a positive clinical effect. In 20 patients, bacterial discharge stopped after three to four months—these patients were no longer drug resistant. In nine of the 16 patients who were followed for a full one and a half to two years, remission of the tuberculosis process occurred. When I asked the Russian doctor who led this study about his rationale for using MSCs in these patients, he replied, “When I have nothing else, I give them MSCs.”
Bernie Marcus founded and chairs The Marcus Foundation, whose focus on children’s health, medical research, free enterprise, and Jewish causes has converged with his support for stem cell research. “It’s done such amazing things for me that I’ve become an advocate for stem cells,” he says. “My experiences in Panama have really moved me to try and get stem cells into the United States. I don’t know where it’s not going to be useful. Th e work in Panama is proving to be a blessing in disguise for a lot of people. It’s the opening of a new era, and especially umbilical cord stem cells.”
Bernie is a strong proponent of stem cell treatment and research. In fact, as of this writing, he and Newt Gingrich are trying to convince Gingrich’s daughter, who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since she was in her twenties, to try stem cell treatment. “She has a very severe case,” Bernie says. “Her father and I are trying to convince her to come down to Panama.”