Health experts warn of “stem cell tourism” dangers
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By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
Wed Sep 1, 2010 2:47am EDT
(Reuters) – Thousands of people are putting their health and life savings at risk to travel to private clinics around the world for unproven and potentially dangerous stem cell treatments, British experts said on Tuesday.
A panel of specialists highlighted individual clinics in Germany and China where so-called “stem cell tourists” go for unlicensed treatment, and said there may be up to 700 similar businesses globally offering unproven cell therapies.
Despite a lack of scientific evidence that such therapies work, patients whose lives are blighted with conditions like Parkinson’s disease or childhood blindness are being lured into spending tens of thousands of dollars with little chance of success. “The patient is in danger of losing their life and health, needlessly traveling long distances away from home, friends and family, not having their condition improved, and potentially losing a large sum of money,” said Chris Mason of University College London’s (UCL) regenerative medicine bioprocessing unit.
The scientists cited one case of an Israeli boy who received a stem cell treatment in Russia for a spinal injury and subsequently developed multiple tumors.
In another case, they said, a 46-year-old woman was treated in Thailand for the autoimmune disease lupus. She later developed kidney failure and died from sepsis.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells that give rise to many different tissues and blood cells. They are standard treatments for leukaemias and a few other genetic diseases, but their use in treating other conditions such as Parkinson’s, spinal injury or optic nerve damage is as yet unproven.
The International Society for Stem Cell Research has previously warned of rogue stem cell clinics around the world seeking to exploit desperate patients oblivious to the risks.
The British experts said they had been prompted to speak out because of a flood of requests they get from patients who read about apparently dramatic cures on websites and in the media.
They said that while private clinics were not operating illegally, they were offering treatments that are unlicensed and in many cases untested, and advised patients to steer clear.
Treatments can cost around $30,000 a patient, they said, and in the absence of clinical trial data to support their work, clinics post patient testimonies on their websites from people who say they have been helped.
Health authorities in Costa Rica ordered the country’s largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatments in June, saying there was no proof they were effective.
Thailand and Mexico also offer stem cell treatments.
The British experts said they were particularly concerned about a firm in Germany called XCell-Center and a firm in China, Beike Biotechnology, which offers stem cell treatments for a range of conditions including brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and optic nerve damage.
XCell said it would issue a statement on Wednesday about the experts’ comments and Beike did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for a response.
“These companies do not offer licensed therapeutics, so it is something the patients themselves have to sign consent forms for,” said Peter Coffey of UCL’s ophthalmology institute, referring to the two named firms and others like them.
Sep 01, 2010 12:51pm EDT
I personally know of 1 Doctor that has done 15+ years research & the Parkisons Treatment SUCCESSFULLY with Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells with his brain cooling technology! and many other tretments! It can be done!
Fetal Stem Cells (progenitors, ethical issues, etc.)
Embryonic Stem Cells (unstable, tumors, ethical issues, etc.)
Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells are STABLE, WITHOUT ethical dilemmaSep 01, 2010 6:50pm EDT
Some people (including a lot of real doctors) are so sure of themselves that they don’t notice the evidence against their beliefs. Others (also including some real doctors) are outright scammers and liars. When either kind offers a miracle cure, people need to watch out.
Don’t just listen to satisfied patients. The dissatisfied patients may not be talking because they are all dead.
If the “establishment” is against a treatment, there’s probably a good reason. Even the people in the establishment want their loved ones and themselves to be cured when they get sick; they aren’t going to suppress a real cure.
People who claim to have all the answers shouldn’t be trusted. NOBODY has all the answers.This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.*We welcome comments that advance the story directly or with relevant tangential information. We try to block comments that use offensive language or appear to be spam and review comments frequently to ensure they meet our standards. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters.