Lack of FDA regulation have led to medically unproven stem cell therapies becoming a $2B business.
Stem cells have tremendous promise to help us understand and treat a range of diseases, injuries and other health-related conditions. Their potential is evident in the use of blood stem cells to treat diseases of the blood, a therapy that has saved the lives of thousands of children with leukemia; and can be seen in the use of stem cells for tissue grafts to treat diseases or injury to the bone, skin and surface of the eye. Important clinical trials involving stem cells are underway for many other conditions and researchers continue to explore new avenues using stem cells in medicine.
Some stem cell treatments, like bone marrow transplants, are medically legitimate. But other “miracle cures,” simply exploiting sick patients, are on the rise: The number of clinics in the United States offering unproven stem cell therapies grew from 12 in 2009 to more than 700 in 2017. It has been proven that in babies, amniotic stem cells develop into a variety of types of tissue. However, it has not been proven that in adults, amniotic stem cells repair multiple types of tissue. But despite a lack of clinical evidence, birth tissue-based stem cell clinics claim amniotic cells can treat arthritis, wrinkles, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, asthma, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart failure. Stem cell’s current applications as treatments are often exaggerated by the media and also by “clinics” looking to capitalize on the hype by selling treatments to chronically ill or seriously injured patients. According to The Hustle, R3 Stem Cell, a company that distributes to 30 clinics across the United States, was founded by a former orthopedic surgeon whose medical license was revoked after 14 malpractice lawsuits. Birth tissue suppliers like R3 obtain their tissue for free from mothers who donate placentas because by law, they may not be compensated for doing so. Although many companies do make payments illegally. Then, the clinics charge patients between $5k-$10k for 10-minute therapy sessions. There are nine things to know when considering stem cell treatment. You should discuss these with your primary care physician before deciding to proceed.
- Currently, few stem cell treatments have been proven safe and effective
The list of diseases for which stem cell treatments have been shown to be beneficial is still very short. The best-defined and most extensively used stem cell treatment is hematopoietic (or blood) stem cell transplantation, for example, bone marrow transplantation, to treat certain blood and immune system disorders or to rebuild the blood system after treatments for some kinds of cancer. Some bone, skin and corneal (eye) injuries and diseases can be treated by grafting or implanting tissues, and the healing process relies on stem cells within this implanted tissue. These procedures are widely accepted as safe and effective by the medical community. All other applications of stem cells are yet to be proven in clinical trials and should be considered highly experimental. Beware of stem cell treatments offered without regulatory approval or outside the confines of a legitimate and registered clinical trial.
- It may be dangerous to try an unproven treatment
- Different types of stem cells serve different purposes in the body
- The same stem cell treatment is unlikely to work for conditions
- The science behind a disease should match the science behind the treatment
- Cells from your own body are not automatically safe when used in treatments
- Patient testimonials and other marketing provided by clinics may be misleading
- An experimental treatment offered for sale is not the same as a clinical trial
- Science becomes medicine when harm is minimized and effectiveness maximized
I’m always ahead of science. Just after they pull my last tooth, stem cell therapy will become available for cavities.