Stem cell tourism: Shady treatments are being offered–even in the United States

stem cell tourism
Credit: iStock
[W]e’re just starting clinical trials to determine if we can use [stem] cells effectively. But that hasn’t stopped people from offering stem cell “treatments” with no basis in evidence. Many of the clinics that offer these services are based overseas, leading to what’s been termed “stem cell tourism.” But a number take advantage of ambiguities in Food and Drug Agency regulations to operate in the United States.

A new survey of doctors suggests that a surprising number of their patients are using these services—sometimes with severe consequences.

Nearly 90 percent of the doctors were treating patients with diseases that were currently incurable, and a similar percentage had been asked about stem cell therapies. About half the neurologists said that they had 15 or more patients ask them just within the past year. While the vast majority of patients were simply looking for additional information about the supposed therapies, a third were looking for the doctor to grant them permission to try one, emphasizing the importance of physicians limiting access to untested treatments.

Related article:  The tricky path for using stem cells to treat coronavirus-ravaged lungs
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This survey is clearly preliminary, given the small subset of the neurology community who responded. Nevertheless, it paints a troubling picture of widespread patient interest in untested treatments and a medical community that isn’t always ready or willing to direct them away from potentially harmful “therapies.”

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