Mar 2017

BBC program raises concerns over potential dangers of unproven eye treatments

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Last week we wrote about three women whose vision was lost or damaged after they were injected with stem cells derived from their own fat tissue in a Florida clinic.

This week, a Calgary doctor who uses our website “to educate patients on avoiding the ‘pop up’ shops” offering unproven stem cell treatments, wrote to make us aware of a BBC podcast called  Assignment that recently featured an episode titled The Stem Cell Hard Sell.

The UK program focused on another Florida clinic that provides — for a $20,000 fee — eye implants derived from bone marrow stem cells drawn from a patient’s pelvis.  Central to the piece is the story of an American man named George Gibson who claims he lost sight in one eye after undergoing the procedure.

The treatment is part of a clinical study that’s listed with the U.S. National Institutes of Health called The Stem Cell Ophthalmology Treatment Study-(SCOTS). However it is unclear if the study is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The BBC program points out that researchers usually do not charge patients for the treatments in a clinical trial or study because the outcomes can’t be guaranteed.  As we have written in this space before, having patients pay for treatments tends to encourage them to “buy into” seeing favourable results that might not truly be there.

Dr. Paul Knoepfler, an American researcher whose lab conducts stem and cancer cell research at the University of California Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento, writes extensively about unproven stem cell treatments. His blog, The Niche, has dealt with SCOTS, drawing comments from one man who claims his vision was significantly improved and from others — including Mr. Gibson — who warn against the treatment.

A press release about the SCOTS trial, says investigators “hope that the treatment will be shown to improve vision in the vast majority of individuals who are enrolled” and mentions that “previous anecdotal experience with eye disease treated with stem cells has been positive.” However a disclaimer states that “no guarantees of specific improvements or visual results are being made” and that “any medical procedure carries risks as well as potential benefits.” The study, to include 300 patients, has published two case studies of patients whose vision improved.

Our Towards Treatment section explains that we currently know of no Health Canada of FDA approved stem cell treatments for eye disease.  Anyone considering such a treatment or participating in a study or trial should consult with their doctors and medical professionals.  As well, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has great information for anyone considering any type of stem cell treatment. You can find it here.

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