Private clinics’ peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical
By: Megan Munsie & John Rasko
Stem cell science is an area of medical research that continues to offer great promise. But as this week’s paper in Science Translational Medicine highlights, a growing number of clinics around the globe, including in Australia, are exploiting regulatory gaps to sell so-called stem cell treatments without evidence that what they offer is effective – or even safe.
Such unregulated direct-to-consumer advertising – typically of cells obtained using liposuction-like methods – not only places the health of individuals at risk, but could also undermine the legitimate development of stem cell-based therapies.
Many academic societies and professional medical organisations have raised concerns about these futile and often expensive cell therapies. Despite this, national regulators have typically been slow or ineffective in curtailing them.
As well as tighter regulations here, international regulators such as the World Health Organisation and the International Council on Harmonisation need to move on ensuring patients desperate for cures aren’t sold treatments with limited efficacy and unknown safety.
So what’s on offer?
Hundreds of stem cell clinics post online claims that they have been able to treat patients suffering from a wide range of conditions. These include osteoarthritis, pain, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and infertility. The websites are high on rhetoric of science – often using various accreditation, awards and other tokens to imply legitimacy – but low on proof that they work.
Rather than producing independently verified results, these clinics rely on patient testimonials or unsubstantiated claims of “improvement”. In so doing these shonky clinics understate the risks to patient health associated with these unproven stem cell-based interventions.
Properly administered informed consent is often overlooked or ignored, so patients can be misled about the likelihood of success. In addition to heavy financial burdens imposed on patients and their families, there is often an “opportunity cost” because the time wasted in receiving futile stem cells diverts patients away from proven medicines…..
Source: The Conversation