StemExpress CEO at Center of Planned Parenthood Scandal

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy,” he might have had someone like Cate Dyer in mind. Dyer is the 36-year-old founder and CEO of StemExpress, the fetal tissue procurement company at the center of the Planned Parenthood scandal. Lauded as a pioneer in promoting life-saving research on HIV, cancer, and heart disease, Dyer founded StemExpress in 2010 as a for-profit company which operates as the broker between research institutes and Universities which need tissue for their studies and hospitals (and Planned Parenthood) which donate that tissue.

Dyer has indeed been a hero in the biotech industry—and beyond. In September, 2014, Inc Magazine named StemExpress, the multimillion-dollar biotechnology company, one of the Top 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America, and Dyer was named one of the “40 under 40” by Sacramento Business Journal which honors Sacramento’s “youngest and brightest leaders” within the region. In 2015, the Sacramento Business Journal named Dyer one of the “Women Who Mean Business” and in April, Dyer received the Distinguished Alumni Award at Sacramento State University. The award is given to those graduates who have “achieved prominence in their chosen fields and brought distinction to the University and or community through their accomplishments.” The university’s website proudly proclaims “Sac State Nurtured StemExpress Founder and CEO Cate Dyer’s Entrepreneurial Spirit.” In an interview posted on the website, Dyer tells why she created the company: “I’m passionate about shortening the cycle it takes for cures to be developed,” Dyer says. “If somebody had the cure for cancer today, it would take, on average, eight years to reach the market because of patent issues and the wait for FDA approval. And that eight-year process could turn into 10 because researchers wait so long for tissue samples. The process could be shortened dramatically if they can source materials quickly.”

That is exactly why Dyer has been so successful—she has managed to “source” the materials more quickly than anyone else. Initially operating out of Dyer’s home, she claims her initial investment in 2010 was $9,000—and just five years later she is heading a multi-million dollar company housed in a modern 19,000 square foot building in downtown Placerville. Ever loyal to her alma mater, we learn from the Sacramento State University website that seventy percent of her laboratory staff are alumni. She also provides paid internships to Sacramento State students for their work in her labs.

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Collaborative Relationship with Planned Parenthood
Until recently, Dyer seemed to have it all—she was able to gain a significant market share of fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood by placing her own personnel at Planned Parenthood abortion facilities to help harvest the tissue following the abortions. In fact, the only reason we even know about the scandal surrounding the sale of fetal tissue at Planned Parenthood is because Holly O’Donnell, one of Dyer’s own employees decided that she could not participate in what she found an abhorrent practice. Of course, O’Donnell was not the only connection between StemExpress and Planned Parenthood. The more important connection between StemExpress and Planned Parenthood is Dr. Ronald Berman, a 73 year-old abortion provider, and Medical Director at Planned Parenthood, Fresno, as well as Planned Parenthood Mountain View, CA.  At the same time Berman was doing abortions for Planned Parenthood, he was also employed as Senior Medical Director at StemExpress doing the very abortions that are contributing to the bottom line of the company he works for. In fact, in the undercover videos, Holly O’Donnell identifies Berman as having a reputation for “going viciously fast” in his abortion and harvesting practices at Planned Parenthood.

Berman and Dyer know that there is much money to be made in the harvesting of fetal tissue. While most of the pro-life community has been focusing on the role Planned Parenthood has played in harvesting everything possible from the bodies of the aborted children in their facilities, the real money that is to be made is in the tissue procurement arena—the broker who provides the materials to the researchers.   While most people know that State and Federal grants fund embryonic stem cell research at universities and research laboratories throughout the country, fewer people realize that federal grant money also funds fetal tissue research. Taxpayer money is helping to add to the tremendous financial success achieved by StemExpress. Lifesite News recently reported that U. S. taxpayers provided more than $280 million in fetal tissue research from 2011 to 2014. Much of that fetal tissue comes from abortion. Originally reported by the Associated Press, 97 organizations, received federal grants for fetal tissue research. A spokesman for St. Jude’s Research Hospital, one of the research facilities working with fetal tissue research, told LifeSite News that the fetal tissue researchers often do not know whether fetal tissue is coming from aborted babies or from babies who are miscarried.

The NIH identifies dozens of hospitals and universities purchasing fetal tissue with federal money including University of North Carolina, University of Idaho, University of Colorado, NYU, UC Irvine, UC San Francisco, UCLA, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Temple, USC, UMass, Texas Tech, Rochester, and others.

And, although federal funding for fetal tissue is significant, it is nothing in comparison with the tremendous increases in federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research since March 9, 2009, when President Obama issued Executive Order 13505, entitled “Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells” which changed the way the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can support and conduct human stem cell research. President Obama’s Executive Order revoked the 2001 restrictions President Bush had placed on human embryonic stem cell research which maintained: (1) research was only allowed on existing embryonic stem cell lines (those harvested prior to 2001); (2) informed consent must have been obtained for the donation of the embryo and that donation must not have involved financial inducements; and (3) the stem cells must have been derived from an embryo that was created for reproductive purposes and was no longer needed.

Once the restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research were lifted, the federal floodgates were opened. In 2007, the NIH awarded $42.1 million in grants for human embryonic stem cell research. In 2009—the first year since President Obama revoked the Bush restrictions, the funding for human embryonic stem cell research grew dramatically to $132.6 million. By 2013, the last year we have data on, the Obama administration awarded $146.1 million for human embryonic stem cell research—an increase of 248 percent over the final Bush administration year in 2007.

Universities continue to be the grateful beneficiaries of the government largesse—and many of them are proud of their human embryonic stem cell research centers. For example, Stanford University has created a Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell research with an ambitious mission statement: “By using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and alternative pluripotent cells such as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) as a model, we seek to understand how pluripotent cells generate distinct fates during human development.” The University of Wisconsin, promotes itself as the “first to successfully isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells.” And, the University of Michigan is proud to be a “leader in three main types of stem cell research: embryonic, adult, and reprogrammed cells known as iPS stem cells.”

This is not to conflate human embryonic stem cell research with fetal tissue research—the numbers are used only to demonstrate the tremendous growth potential in revenue from what the industry calls “products of conception.”  And, StemExpress has enjoyed a portion of that tremendous growth. A major expense for all researchers—including university-based researchers—is the procurement of fetal tissue. To meet their needs, StemExpress has an extensive catalog. It appears that a real revenue source for them is fetal liver. According to this catalog, cryopreserved fetal liver CD133 & Stem/Progenitor Cells (FL-CD133) can bring as much as $24,000. Other forms of fetal liver like the mononucleal cell are less expensive.

The arrangements worked well—until the recently released undercover video by the Center for Medical Progress (video #8) when StemExpress CEO Cate Dyer, was caught on tape describing how her company often deals with intact human infant cadavers.  On video, Dyer is shown laughing when talking about sending intact aborted babies to her lab workers.   Claiming to always give a warning to lab workers to expect such a baby: “Oh yeah, if you have intact cases—which we’ve done a lot—we sometimes ship those back to our lab in its entirety…. Tell the lab its coming,” she laughs…. You know, open the box and go ‘Oh my God.’”

It is a horrific video—and understandable that StemExpress tried to stop the video from being shown by finding a supportive judge who blocked the release. But, the Center for Medical Progress appealed the decision successfully last week allowing the release of the videotape. It certainly has been unfortunate for StemExpress, which until the Planned Parenthood revelations, was operating as a reputable supplier to the biotech industry. Promising “privacy” to donors and recipients, the StemExpress Promise is: “Protecting the privacy of our researchers and donors is always the highest priority at StemExpress. Our team is driven by the knowledge that our products and services are helping researchers develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease.” The stated goal of StemExpress is: “To build strong, responsive and long-lasting relationships with our clients and we take pride in our researcher-oriented approach. By partnering with StemExpress you’ll get the high quality samples you need so that you can focus on the research.”

StemExpress has indeed been a tremendous success and although Dyer has announced that she is “severing all ties” with Planned Parenthood over the revelations on the videotapes, it may be difficult to disentangle her company from all of this. Still, Dyer has plenty of supporters in the “pro-choice” community and among university and hospital researchers—as well as a possible source of support from both sides of the political aisle. Her sister, Charlotte Ivancic, is the Health Policy Director for Speaker of the House John Boehner, and prior to that, Ivancic had been Rep Paul Ryan’s “point person” on Medicare reform. Dyer’s connections may help sustain the work of StemExpress. But, there is no question that the full story of Cate Dyer has yet to be written.

  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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