Blood therapy

How search for secret ‘natural killer’ cells embroiled Hong Kong beauty chain in manslaughter case

A summary of the events leading up to the death of a blood therapy client at a clinic run by DR Group

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2017, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 7:55pm

Four women fell seriously ill in 2012 after receiving cytokine-induced killer (CIK) cell therapy at beauty clinics in Hong Kong run by the DR Group. The blunder killed one woman and rocked the city’s beauty industry. Prosecutors later accused group owner Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing, technician Chan Kwun-chung and Dr Mak Wan-ling of manslaughter.

March 2, 2011

Chan emails Chow about natural killer (NK) cells that can “kill bad cells before they become cancer”. Intrigued, Chow asks for more information

April 23, 2011

Chan tells Chow people are secretly doing NK therapy in mainland China and Taiwan for anti-ageing and health care purposes and remarks that it could be “a good source of stable income for DR”

Bacteria at levels ‘only seen in terminal Aids patients’: doctors await verdict over fatal beauty blunder

May 2011

Chan engages a professor in Taiwan to learn about his practice, but their technical transfer deal falls through

August 2011

Chow learns from a customer, Chinese soprano Huang Xia, that the treatment is popular in Japan and visits her doctor the following month

September 2011

DR Group’s then legal adviser writes to the Department of Health in his personal capacity to inquire if NK therapies are regulated. A reply comes three days later quoting relevant sections of various ordinances. Chow believes CIK therapies are not regulated in the city

January 2012

Chow signs agreement with Guangzhou Military Command’s general hospital. Professor Xiao Yang, from the hospital, says CIK cells are better than NK cells

February 2012

DR Group launches CIK therapy. The first treatment is sold

September 12, 2012

Three women – Wong Fung-kwan, Chan Yuen-lam and Wong Ching-bor – undergo blood extraction

September 29, 2012

Chow’s sister, Chow Yan-yan, a lung cancer patient, develops a fever, nausea and diarrhoea after receiving her second blood infusion administered by Mak

Horrific details of a Hong Kong beauty clinic treatment gone fatally wrong

October 3, 2012

Three women show symptoms ranging from chills and fever to shivering and numb limbs after receiving an infusion administered by Mak. DR Group stops offering CIK therapy. The treatment has been sold to 55 customers

October 4, 2012

All three women are sent to hospital. Police lock down the Asia Pacific Stem Cell Science laboratory where the blood products were processed. Inside, the laboratory’s BacT/Alert machine is used on CIK products for the first time to screen for bacteria. Blood product samples from all three women test positive in less than 12 hours

October 6, 2012

The bacteria mycobacterium abscessus is found in Chan Yeun-lam’s body. Chow tells the press he had no proof the therapy worked

October 8, 2012

Chow writes in an internal company circular: “I’m also a victim.”

October 10, 2012

Chan Yuen-lam dies

October 17, 2012

Chan admits he did not do bacteria tests. Investigators find the same strain of bacteria on two pipettes and the centrifugal machine at APSC

February 2015

Chow, Chan and Mak are charged with manslaughter

June 19, 2017

Jury is empanelled

December 11, 2017

Jury begins deliberation