Tony Robbin’s Life Force Stem Cell Discussion Review
“After so many years of agony from my spinal stenosis, now I was standing straight and strong without an ounce of pain in my back. It felt supple and free, better than it had in decades. You know that expression, I felt like a brand-new person? Without exaggeration, that new person was me. Six years later, my shoulder is still perfect, with full range of motion. I don’t baby it; to be honest[…]” Life Force Tony Robbins, Peter Diamandis MD, and Robert Hariri MD
Tony Robbins wrote Life Force so we could be the CEOs of our health. He brings stem cell therapy to the front of the stage with his “brand-new person” account of his stem cell treatment in Panama. He tells a larger-than-life story because, well, that is Tony.
As to the science, Tony relies on well-respected experts (with whom he invests) for his “facts.” However, his stem cell explanation suffers from what behavioral finance gurus call “cognitive bias” (A. Tversky and D. Kahneman 1972).
Why Our Review?
This review separates fact from bias and real-world outcomes from unrealistic expectations. Further, we reconstruct Tony’s inspiring yet ambiguous narrative into a clarifying before-during-and-after timeline.
We presume that Tony benefited from cell therapy. Stem cells are effective in treating the conditions from which he suffered. It is just hard to know how much, for how long, and why. In Chapter 18, Tony dropped a subtle bomb on his born-again in Panama story: He did another treatment to handle the “challenges” related to the Panama treatment discussed in Chapter 2. More on that in a moment, first this review’s purpose.
Our review aims to set realistic expectations and empower patients to make an informed choice regarding stem cell therapy. As Warren Buffett once counseled a CEO, “The way to have a happy marriage is to marry someone with low expectations.” Better said, it is best to set expectations cell therapy can meet or beat. Claims of immediate miracle cures do not help anyone.
Unfortunately, Tony’s too incredible to be believed stem cell miracle – in less than 72 hours- may set people up for disappointment. Stem cell therapy doesn’t take effect like a pain killer – at least for most people.
With all that said, we applaud Tony’s stem cell advocacy. He gives hope to 10’s of millions of people living with debilitating conditions unsatisfied with conventional and integrative medicine.
Back to Tony’s Story
Tony’s story begins: “I have to admit, I was acting more like a 14-year-old at the time, tearing down a mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho, on my snowboard. It went horribly wrong, and I fell with a bone-rattling force that annihilated my shoulder.
It turned out that I’d torn my rotator cuff, the set of tendons and muscles connecting the upper arm to the shoulder. Over the years, I’d dealt with lots of pain. This hurt so brutally that I didn’t know what to do with myself. On a scale of one to ten, I’d award this pain a score of 9.9! My nerves were on fire. Deep breaths even hurt. Over the next two nights, I slept a grand total of two hours.” Ouch.
The melodrama continued. More on that in a moment, first let us fact-check Tony’s science presentation.
The cognitive bias begins when Tony credits Dr. Bob Hariri with discovering stem cells in placentas doomed for the dumpster. Then Bob tosses “autologous fat-stem cells” into the medical waste in two ways. He fails to mention:
1. Zuk et al.’s 1999 discovery in a UCLA lab that adipose tissue is the most accessible, abundant, and potent source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and
2. Adipose tissue contains a mixed population of stem cells and other regenerative cells. Researchers call these autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells or ADRCs.
He reasons that stem cells from bone marrow, skin, or adipose tissue decline in number and potency as we age. Hariri calls this process stem cell exhaustion. Thus, he argues cultured allogeneic or donor placental-derived MSCs (PD-MSCs) are pristine. Umbilical-cord-derived MSCs (UC-MSCs) are next best. The hypothesis is making sense – so far.
But just because it’s logical doesn’t mean it’s true. James Willerson, MD, Ph.D., and Emerson Perin, MD, Ph.D., from Texas Heart Institute, contradicted Bob’s argument in Buying New Soul (2012).
“Adipose tissue seems to be a promising source of stem cells…The resiliency of adipose tissue is evidenced by patients’ ability to gain weight easily even in the presence of multiple comorbidities known to inhibit stem cell function. It may be that certain tissues are less exposed to the detrimental effects of disease and aging.”
Notably, investigators have published over 85,000 papers discussing adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs). That is an average of 11 new publications per day over the past 22 years. The publishing rate has accelerated to 36 per day, nearly four times the historical average.
A PubMed search finds less than half as many publications on Placenta-derived stem cells (PDSCs).
Jack Nicklaus’ Stem Cell Therapy Hole-in-One
After Bob gave fat a lousy score, Tony recounted meeting Jack Nicklaus at the Vatican Stem Cell Summit. Here, Jack told the audience about his stem cell therapy hole-in-one. Stem cells “helped me go from not being able to stand for longer than 10 minutes, to playing golf and hitting the tennis ball again without pain. They will dramatically enhance your life!”
Apparently, Tony didn’t know prof Dr. Eckhard Alt treated Jack’s back with ADRCs. The your-fat-stem cells-are-too-old theory missed the cut here: Jack was in his late 70s when he opted to go to Germany for autologous ADRCs.
Note, Jack said “helped me” – stem cells are the fertilizer – physical therapy, appropriate exercise, and a healthy lifestyle are the gardeners that restore health.
Finally, our groups in the Bahamas and the U.S. have treated ~400 patients with ADRCs.
We counted every patient’s total nucleated cell (TNCs) with the NucleoCounter. A TNC contains DNA, which makes the cell active. Red blood cells do not have a nucleus and thus have no therapeutic effect. A review of the stats proves Dr. Willerson’s point: ADRCs’ yield, viability, and, most important, outcomes do not suffer from age.
Two over-70 patients with multiple morbidities hold the male and female records for highest yields and viability.
- Nancy, a skinny long-term smoker with COPD, arthritis, and dermatitis, and
- Bob, an obese man with polyarthritis, a rare neurologic condition, migraine headaches, and frailty.
On the other side of the coin, a 15-year-old spinal cord injury patient’s yield was right up there with Bob. Six months post-cell therapy and more than one year after his catastrophic injury, the young man regained bilateral motor control of his hip flexors and quads. Standard of Care SCI patients plateau at about 12-months – remarkably, this young man’s path is accelerating.
Most profound, our patients with multiple chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart, kidney, and autoimmune diseases – including obese patients – report high patient satisfaction.
Back to Tony’s story
Three specialists advised surgery. Then one injected PRP but must have hit a nerve as Tony’s arm went limp while performing. Next, a doctor recommended Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy (PEMF). PEMF helped: His pain score reduced to 4.5. Tony continued PEMF until he arrived in Panama. Presumably, his pretreatment score pain was lower still.
The Panama clinic gave him three IV shots of umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UB-MSCs) over three days. On the first day, a doctor injected stem cells into his shoulder – but not his back.
On day two, Tony had an adverse event: “…I had what’s often called a “cytokine response.” I felt chills and shaking, but I wasn’t scared. They told me it was normal: “Your body’s healing, just get some rest.”
At the risk of offending Tony or the clinic staff: A cytokine response is an abnormal reaction. The body’s immune system recognized the donor stem cells as foreign (or contaminated). These reactions do not occur with autologous ADRCs.
By the way, we respect Neil Riordan, Ph.D., CEO of the Stem Cell Clinic of Panama. He co-authored three early, highly cited papers on stromal vascular fraction (the generic term for ADRCs).
Recent research clarifies that donor stem cells are “immune-evasive, not immune-privileged,” counter to the proponents of allogeneic cell therapy.  Simply put, the Panamanian UB-MSCs and Tony’s immune system were not a perfect match. Married couples fight from time to time but can still be happy. Perhaps, that was the case with Panama clinic’s Golden Cells. They had a little spat and got on with it.
Thankfully, Tony says the shaking lasted 20 minutes. He did not allow how long the chills lasted or if he caught a fever. Published clinical trials report allogeneic MSC infusions often cause transient fevers. This side-effect is mild, particularly compared to the risks of surgeries, drugs, and devices.
Miraculously, 15 years of back pain and shoulder pain were gone for good on the third day, Tony stated. He does not specify if the injection doctor was board-certified in pain management. Of if the shoulder injections were done under ultrasound? As one reads on, the story gets confusing.
The stem cells took effect on day three – but we don’t know for how long or how much.
And here is the rub: The continuing story makes it hard to attribute the awe-inspiring, new-life proclamation to life force UB-MSCs alone. That is ok – if Tony’s fans understand that. First, his shoulder may not have been in that much pain, thanks to the PEMF and conventional care, i.e., ice, PT, and rest. And resting during the three-day protocol may have decompressed his spine.
Plus, he indulges in multiple biohacks per day for pain and inflammation.
Here is the point: Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointed patients. But they are thrilled when stem cell therapy helps them live a better life.
As Tony’s research, therapy, and investment journey twists and turns like Jack’s back did when he played the PGA tour, Tony accesses innumerable tools for his health:
- Counter-strain physical therapy,
- Laser therapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy,
- PEMF therapy
- Egoscue exercises,
- Stem cells, etc.
Last but not least, his story double-bogeyed with exosomes, nano-sized sacs of growth factors secreted from MSCs. “I personally used exosomes along with stem cells to address a variety of challenges I experienced as a result of the work I had done on my shoulder that I told you about in Chapter 2,”
What? Tony said Panama stem cells resolved those challenges on Day Three.
For reasons best known to biohackers and God, there is a growing misbelief that exosomes are more effective than MSCs. That science discussion is beyond the scope of this review. Suffice to say, MSCs release exosomes, growth factors, hormones, and anti-inflammatory cytokines in a single dose.
Significantly, ADRCs secrete hundreds more healing or trophic factors than cultured MSCs do alone. All these attributes place clinical-grade ADRCs at the top of the leader board.
However, that doesn’t mean PD-MSCs, UB-MSCs, and BM-MSCs aren’t effective. They can shoot par. But safety and effectiveness depend on complying with Good Lab Practices (GLPs), the culturing method, and other technical specifications. Pew Trusts exposed contamination-related adverse events when doctors treat patients with cheap and cheerful stem cell products.
AMBROSE’s use of the Celution™ cell processing system and compliance with the Federal Right to Try Act of 2017 underpins our pristine cell-related safety record.
Tony is a Humanitarian. He has inspired millions of people to live better lives and means Life Force to do the same thing. His 1100-page 17-hour listen does so.
However, he diluted his sincere intentions with cognitive bias, contradictory evidence, conflicts of interest, and hyperbole. Our forensic review of the stem cell commentary suggests other information in the book suffered the same fate.
Life Force is a best-seller.
 Berglund et al. Immunoprivileged no more: measuring the immunogenicity of allogeneic adult mesenchymal stem cells Stem Cell Research & Therapy (2017) 8:288
 Akrum et al Mesenchymal stem cells: immune evasive, not immune privileged Nat Biotechnol. 2014 March ;32(3):252–260
 Hirosi Y et al. Comparison of trophic factors secreted from human adipose-derived stromal vascular fraction with those from adipose-derived stromal/ stem cells in the same individuals