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July 26, 2016

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

Keep the Opportunities, Lose the Opportunists

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

Clinics claiming astonishing curative results from stem cell treatments often do not have scientific evidence supporting their work, and they rely on testimonials for promoting the value of their product. [Luis M. Molina/Getty]

  • A recent article1 focused attention on the proliferation of unregulated clinics in the U.S. that promise stem cell cures. The term “stem cell” used to have meaning only to scientists. It referred to cells that can both make new copies of themselves and turn into different types of mature cells.

    Stem cell is a fitting term for the cells in bone marrow that are transplanted to people in an attempt to save them from leukemia. Bone marrow transplants require killing a patient’s own cancerous bone marrow and replacing it with cells that produce all the types of blood cells found in the body. A bone marrow transplant to replace the blood system is the only stem cell therapy that is FDA approved as being safe and effective.

    But investments like California’s $3 billion for stem cell research in 2004 and similar efforts worldwide have added stem cell to the vocabulary of a growing number of people. Positive press from funding agencies has raised not only the public’s expectations for miraculous stem cell cures, but also a geographic and institutional bidding war for scientists pursuing cures for the most intractable diseases.

    Enter the opportunists. The Wikipedia description of the grifters who peddled snake oil in the early 1900s has a troubling similarity to the marketing by the unregulated stem cell clinics of today. “ ...a ‘doctor’ with dubious credentials, selling fake medicines with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence. To increase sales, an accomplice in the crowd (a shill) would often attest to the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm.”

    Like snake oil salesmen, clinics claiming astonishing curative results from stem cell treatments often do not have licensed physicians administrating the treatments, no scientific evidence supporting their work, and they rely on testimonials for advertising and promoting the value of their product.

    For the rest of this article as published in the September 1, 2016 issue of GEN click here.

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