Jan 2015

Doubts about Howe’s treatment underscore need for Strategy

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The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.

According to Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University, Howe’s apparent recovery has many unknown factors. “Is this a transient effect, or is it really a perceived or somewhat of a placebo effect and is there something really happening? Scientifically and biologically that is important,” he told CP.

In addition, Dr. Bhatia is concerned that immunosuppression drugs or any other drugs Howe might have taken before the treatment could be showing some of the improvement effects. “We really don’t know.”

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO and Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network and a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, told CP  that while he couldn’t speak specifically about Howe’s treatment in Mexico as it’s not clear how much the hockey legend has improved or whether the stem cell treatment he received was responsible, some patients have suffered adverse effects from therapies received at clinics abroad. “There’s real potential for doing harm,” said Dr. Rudnicki. “And a person claiming to get better doesn’t prove anything,” he added.

Although there is currently no stem cell treatment for stroke approved by Health Canada, the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan will lead the way to delivering five to 10 novel treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

If Canada makes stem cell research and development a national priority, the Strategy will ultimately ensure the access to stem cell treatments that are proven to be safe and effective.

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