Suppose you have a disease for which there currently is no cure. You go online and find a stem cell clinic in the United States offering to rid you of the condition with their miraculous new treatment. The clinic looks reputable enough and even has certified doctors on staff. When you investigate further you find out that it will set you back somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000. What should you do?
“Steer clear of them,” advises Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, director of the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at UC San Diego. “They’re probably taking advantage of you and it’s probably unproven.”
Dr. Lawrence’s made the comments in an Orange Counter Register news feature this week that warns people “whose lives – or whose loved ones’ lives – have been upended by chronic or incurable conditions such as Parkinson’s” to be cautious about clinics offering unproven stem cell cure-alls.
“If somebody is telling you something that’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true,” says Dr. Sidney Golub, director of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine.
We have frequently used this blog to urge caution to those considering stem cell treatments abroad, especially in countries with less-stringent health regulations and clinics offering to treat a laundry list of diseases and conditions with the same stem cell “cure.”
But as the Register piece indicates, there are now nearly 600 clinics in the United States — just a quick drive or flight away for most Canadians — touting expensive stem cell treatments for everything from breast augmentation to spinal cord injuries. Many use stem cells drawn from the patient’s own fat, arguing that such treatments don’t require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Our website has a section on stem cell tourism. You can find it here. It links to an excellent guidebook produced by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law, Albany Medical College and the Stem Cell Network. There is also a great web resource provided by the International Society for Stem Cell Research. You can find it here.
Beyond the possibility of spending money on a treatment that does not work, there is always a risk that the procedure may have adverse side effects. “The risk is far greater than the potential benefit,” Mary Bass, a director of the patient advocacy group Americans for Cures, told the Register.
The FDA also warns that patients may be “vulnerable to unscrupulous providers of stem cell treatments that are illegal and potentially harmful.”