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Experts call for global action on unproven stem cell therapies

10 July 2017

By Lea Goetz

Appeared in BioNews 908

International experts are calling for global action on unproven and potentially dangerous stem cell therapies, and their misleading marketing to the public.

'Many patients feel that potential cures are being held back by red tape and lengthy approval processes. Although this can be frustrating, these procedures are there to protect patients from undergoing needless treatments that could put their lives at risk,' said Dr Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh. She is one of 15 authors who published the clarion call in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Currently only few conditions can be successfully treated with stem cells, including blood cancers, some immune diseases, and severe burns.

Despite this, unlicensed clinics advertise stem cell-based treatments directly to patients promising a cure for various ailments when there is no evidence to show they will help, or that they will not cause harm.

The internet and social media have helped the burgeoning direct-to-consumer marketing of both licensed and unlicensed stem cell therapies, and 'offers sellers the ability to reach worldwide audiences, amplifying the difficulties of enforcing national laws in a global marketplace', note the authors.

They add that patients are vulnerable to these online marketing strategies due to the hyped media coverage of stem cell research; a lack of reliable information; and a combination of missing international guidelines and conflicting national regulations on procedures.

Foregoing alternative therapies, patients take risks on invalid stem cell-based procedures, which have led to deaths in Australia, Russia and Germany, warn the authors. While those who sell the treatments may be difficult to hold accountable due to legal grey areas on stem cell-based treatments in most countries.

In addition to the potential harm to patients, 'unfulfilled promises may bring regenerative medicine research and development into disrepute' the authors caution.

In their call for action, the experts from UK, the USA, Canada, Belgium, Italy and Japan urge for a cooperation of national and international efforts to control the global industry of stem cell-based medical procedures and their advertising.

The authors believe that 'predatory' clinics can be exposed on a national level, when scientific experts, investigative journalists and local authorities work together, such as in a recent trial of the Stamina Foundation in Italy, a highly publicized provider of unproven stem cell treatments (see BioNews 878).

They further suggest controls on advertising and international standards for the manufacture and testing of cell and tissue-based therapies, similar to global drug quality standards, which might be set by the World Health Organisation.

Such measures will only be effective when national governing bodies cooperate to ensure compliance, but the experts warn that 'the stakes are too high not to take a united stance'.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

20 November 2017 - by Dr Patrick Foong 
Stem cell research holds tremendous promise for the treatment of a wide variety of illnesses and conditions, from spinal cord injury to autism. However, much more work is necessary to translate stem cell research into safe and effective therapies...
09 October 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
The reputation of stem cell research is being undermined by unscrupulous clinics offering unproven therapies, says a report published last week...
04 September 2017 - by Rikita Patel 
The US Food and Drug Administration intends to investigate the use of unproven stem cell therapies being offered in the country's clinics...

05 June 2017 - by Emma Lamb 
Two teams of doctors in China are to administer embryonic stem cell therapy from fertilised human embryos to treat different degenerative diseases...
02 May 2017 - by Cathal Farrell 
The ability of stem cells to divide into different mature cell types has ignited the field of regenerative medicine. Stem cells promise to repair and regenerate damaged or diseased tissues without the need for orthodox medical or surgical interventions. However, there is disparity between the expectations held by the general public and some medical professionals versus the reality of the emerging clinical evidence...
10 April 2017 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Children with autism spectrum disorder who received infusions of their own stem cells from banked umbilical cord blood as part of a clinical trial have no apparent lasting adverse effects after one year...
19 September 2016 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
The US Food and Drug Administration has held a public hearing on proposals to regulate stem cell treatments in the same way as drugs...

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