Jan 2015
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Controversies over stem cell tourism underscore need for Strategy

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Two days after we blogged about the scientific concerns regarding Gordie Howe’s experimental stem cell treatment in Tijuana, another example of Canadians seeking unproven therapies abroad has hit the media.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” MS

Chuckry, who has been battling MS for over a decade, was recruited into the stem cell trial by Doug Broeska, founder of a Winnipeg-based company called Regenetek Research. Broeska recruited patients for the the so-called “liberation” therapy pioneered by Italian researcher Dr. Paolo Zamboni in 2008. The treatment, dubbed chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, involves widening the patient’s neck veins to improve blood flow. The Indian clinical trial combines CCSVI and the injection of stem cells into the veins and spinal column.

In March 2013, Chuckry flew to India for the trial. “It comes to a point of sort of desperation of trying to find the next thing that might help me, so I’m always on the search for that and I came across this,” he told the CBC. But the attacks came back upon his return home. His attempts to get in touch with Broeska about his new MS symptoms were unsuccessful and he received none of the follow-up common in clinical trials, such as MRIs and physical examinations.

According to the CBC, Broeska claimed on his LinkedIn profile that he earned a PhD at the University of Manitoba, but the university could not confirm that and his LinkedIn profile was down yesterday. The International Cellular Medicine Society, of which Broeska claims to be a member, has no record of his membership. And the ethics committee at India’s Inamdar Hospital in India, where the clinical trial is underway, ordered Broeska to step down as principal investigator because his lack of credentials and follow-up “violated international ethical standards.”

In addition, the Winnipeg Free Press reported this morning that the University of Winnipeg has cancelled a joint project with Regenetek Research.

Over the last few years the much publicized potential of stem cells to treat a variety of diseases has raised hope among patients suffering from conditions for which there currently are no cures. This, in turn, has led some less than scrupulous companies across the globe to capitalize on that hope by marketing costly stem cell therapies that do not have the support of proven clinical evidence. For more information, please visit our Treatment Abroad page.

Both the Howe report and this week’s MS controversy point to the need for Canada to make stem cell research and development a national priority. As James Price, Foundation President and CEO, told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week, “stem cell tourism should be a wake-up call that Canada needs to prioritize funding for stem cell therapies.” He says it illustrates the need for the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, with its goal of delivering five to 10 new treatments to clinics within 10 years. He told the paper that the Action Plan will give Canadians confidence “that new therapies are a priority and ultimately, Canadians will have first access to these therapies.”

Indeed, Canada is a world leader in stem cell research. MS survivor Jennifer Molson has been symptom-free for 12 years after receiving a stem cell transplant in a  clinical trial run by Dr. Harry Atkins at the Ottawa Hospital. “I’m living proof of the tremendous potential that exists with stem cell research. I got a second chance at life.” said Molson in declaring her support for the Strategy.

One thought on “Controversies over stem cell tourism underscore need for Strategy”

  1. Joe Sornberger says:

    Thank you Victoria. The jury is still out on whether stem cell therapies work against arthrititis, although many clinics in the U.S. and Canada are offering the treatment without proof from randomized controlled clinical trials. Here is our most recent blog post on the subject.

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