Stem Cell Clinics Under Critical Scrutiny in US
Stem cell clinics are proliferating in the U.S., where there are now 570 in operation, according to a paper quoted by the New York Times.
And concerns are being raised that these clinics are often operating and making claims beyond those allowed by the country’s public health regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In an article headlined “Stem Cell Therapies Are Still Mostly Theory, Yet Clinics Are Flourishing,” Gina Kolata says the clinics are “offering untested stem cell treatments for just about every medical use imaginable.”
She continued: “In theory, stem cells might be a useful treatment for certain diseases that involve the loss of cells, like Type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis. They are primitive cells that can develop into a range of mature cells and perhaps serve as replacements. But progress is slow. After a flurry of stem cell excitement two decades ago, almost all the research today is still in mice or petri dishes. The very few clinical trials that have begun are still in the earliest phase.
“The problem is that stem cell therapies are still mostly theory. So what is going on? How can there be clinics, even chains of clinics run by companies, offering stem cell treatment for almost any disease you can think of — sports injuries, arthritis, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, muscular dystrophy, ALS, cancer?”
According to the article, the rapid proliferation of stem cell clinics “looks like it is occurring on a nationwide industrial scale,” said Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota, who, with Paul S. Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the School of Medicine of the University of California, Davis, published the new paper tallying the clinics. “It’s operating brazenly, out in the open. It leaps out of these cultural assumptions about hopes and dreams of stem cell treatment, but there is no science behind it.”
In fact, the FDA allows clinics to inject patients with their own (autologous) stem cells as long as the cells, or the tissue the cells are extracted from, meet specific criteria, including “minimal manipulation,” and are intended to perform their normal basic function.
Some clinics advertise treatments that seem to flout the regulations, offering, for example, stem cells from amniotic fluid, which do not qualify under the FDA’s rules because they are not from the patient’s body.
Others advertise stem cells collected from a person’s blood or fat to treat a neurological disease like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. Those cells do not qualify because they do not normally function in the brain to control movement. There is no registry of patients going to these clinics, so it is unclear how many have been treated.
There, I must question the argument of the critics of such treatment – not just for MS, but for autoimmune diseases generally.
Plenty of evidence exists, both in clinical trials1 and anecdotally2, that the stem cell treatment — popularly known as HSCT — does, indeed, work. However, that transplant therapy requires the use of chemotherapy and, as far as I can see, The New York Times fails to mention that, possibly because these new clinics are not offering it.
Using everything that I have learned about the use of stem cell transplants to treat MS, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that the best one is Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation that includes chemotherapy.
I believe that, as far as MS is concerned, any stem cell treatment without chemotherapy is worthless.
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