Cyprus Police raided a Long Covid clinic in Larnaca this week where it turned out that stem cells from donors in Ukraine were being used illegally in overpromised patients with chronic illnesses who flock to the island’s southern town for treatment.
According to local media, health ministry and law enforcement officials raided a medical clinic in Larnaca on Thursday following a complaint about long covid patients receiving treatment with equipment not designated for the illness.
But the story turned out to be more than just wrong use of equipment, after reports in foreign media already circulating implicated Cyprus in costly blood washing to treat long covid patients using unlawful regenerative medicine.
The clinic in question was said to have been using therapeutic plasma apheresis, a process where whole blood removed from donors gets separated it into various components, with foreign patients often risking financial ruin after several weeks of unproven add-on therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen and intravenous vitamin infusions.
The Larnaca clinic was working with centers in Ukraine and Slovakia, where donors provided human tissue cells, embryonic stem cells, and umbilical cord blood, with treatments costing up to €50,000
Cypriot authorities reportedly got wind of the operation back in early July, according to health ministry official Constantinos Athanasiou, who said there was a news article in British media and a number of advertisements about the clinic in question.
“Administrators paid a visit to the specific clinic where they spotted the machine, essentially for plasma apheresis, and after contacting the manufacturer it was determined the equipment was compliant with medical devices laws but not for use in patients who have long covid syndrome,” Athanasiou said.
The government then sent a letter advising the clinic that the machine was not designed to be used for long covid, with Athanasiou saying they got a reply saying they would comply.
But after further probing into the matter, Athanasiou said “it was determined right then and there that therapies included human cells that were obtained from foreign countries.”
While stem cell research can be legally authorized in the Republic of Cyprus under strict conditions, the use of embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes is strictly prohibited by EU laws.
After no indication that plasma apheresis had been halted, the health ministry said they contacted Cyprus’ Police Chief, who ordered law enforcement agents joined by ministry officials to raid the health center and suspend operations at the specific unit within the clinic.
“Material evidence was sealed so that human cells could facilitate an ongoing police investigation,” Athanasiou said, adding that health ministry officials also went to police headquarters to give depositions.
State-funded RIK News said the Larnaca clinic had been working with health centers in Ukraine, where donors provided human tissue cells, embryonic stem cells, and even umbilical cord blood, with end-product treatments costing up to €50,000 a pop.
Experts have questioned whether these invasive therapies should be offered at all, citing lack of sufficient evidence.
But a lawyer in Cyprus told SigmaTV on Saturday that patients who sign waiver forms and are not victims of fraud or deception are left with no legal recourse no matter the outcome of the procedure.
Cyprus and the Zavos controversy
This is not the first time Cyprus and Larnaca made big headlines globally in the field of banned or controversial experimental medicine.
Back in 2003, Cypriot-American fertility expert Panayiotis Zavos shocked the medical world when he announced that his team had cloned the first human embryo to make a baby.
Even though Cypriot authorities in 2001 reportedly denied Zavos’ unofficial request for permission to clone, there was media speculation at the time that the Kentucky-based controversial doctor was attempting to carry out human cloning on Cypriot soil.
In March 2001, Zavos told a hearing before the US Congress that “the genie is out of the bottle,” while a year later he told Kathimerini Greece that “2002 will be the year of the clone.”
Following Zavos’ public comments and rampant speculation on his native island, where he was born and raised in Larnaca, then-EU candidate Republic of Cyprus rushed a bill through the House, getting lawmakers in just 30 minutes to ban human cloning altogether.
A criminal investigation that was being conducted by Korean investigators in 2002 still had named Cyprus among possible cloning locations after a woman said she was pregnant with a cloned embryo.
The Korean branch office of a US company that made the statement on behalf of the woman was said to have believed that humans were created by extraterrestrials using cloning methods.
Years later Zavos claimed he had cloned human embryos and transferred them into the wombs of women at an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
The doctor had always claimed he wanted to help people by attempting to recreate loved ones who have died.
But he has been condemned for his actions by the global community and even accused of impregnating an unwitting patient with his own sperm.