Jim Gass, a 66-year-old lawyer who now lives in San Diego, has inadvertently become the human face of the dangers of stem cell tourism.…
Jim Gass, a 66-year-old lawyer who now lives in San Diego, has inadvertently become the human face of the dangers of stem cell tourism.
A feature in the New York Times headlined “A Cautionary Tale of Stem Cell Therapy Abroad” tells of how Mr. Gass spent $300,000 by travelling to clinics in Mexico, China, and Argentina in search of a miracle stem cell cure after he had a stroke. Recently, his American doctors found a huge mass of someone else’s cells growing aggressively in his lower spine.
As the article explains, Mr Gass travelled from clinic to clinic believing that the worst that could happen was there would be no improvement in his post-stroke condition, which left his left arm useless and his left leg weak. Except for being able to use his right arm, he is now paralyzed from the neck down.
In Mexico he received an injection of fetal cells shipped from Russia that, for a time, seemed to improve his ability to walk: “Then something disturbing happened,” Mr. Gass told the Times. “I felt pain when I would lie down, like I was lying on a tumor. “I started to lose my ability to walk and I fell down a lot.”
That’s when Boston doctors found the mass containing someone else’s primitive cells. They treated it with radiation, which seemed to slow its growth, but the mass is growing again.
As discussed on the Treatments Abroad page on our website, scientific discoveries and innovations surrounding the potential of stem cell science have led to great enthusiasm about potential benefits to patients. But the dark side of that enthusiasm is the hype, exaggerated publicity and inaccurate claims in the interest of financial gain.
Many unregulated clinics around the world offer treatments that are simply not based on sound scientific evidence. If you or someone you know is considering such a therapy, you’d be wise to consult a booklet produced by the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Albany Medical College and the Stem Cell Network entitled What you need to know about stem cell therapies. A PDF version is available here.
Both sources advise potential patients to be wary of clinics that offer patient testimonials in place of evidence gathered through rigorous clinical trials. Or, as Mr. Gass now says: “Don’t trust anecdotes.”
“Many challenges surround stem cell research, but the number one issue as perceived by stem cell community is the marketing and selling of unproven stem cell therapies,” says Prof.…
“Many challenges surround stem cell research, but the number one issue as perceived by stem cell community is the marketing and selling of unproven stem cell therapies,” says Prof. Timothy Caulfied.
A Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, Prof. Caulfield addressed the problem at a recent workshop on Stem Cell Therapies: Opportunities for Assuring the Quality and Safety of Unregulated Clinical Offerings, organized by U.S. Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Science.
Many clinics that look perfectly legitimate on the Web, offer stem cell treatments for everything, without any clinical-based evidence.
“Any time there is an exciting scientific development, people use it to profit,” says Prof. Caulfield in the video. “I call it Scienceploitation,” he adds.
The increase in unproven stem cell treatments is a global phenomenon.”The numbers of desperate patients using these clinics worldwide are big,” says Prof. Caulfield, who is a member of Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Science Leadership Council. “And the harm is big, too. Health risks for patients, high costs of procedures and undermined public trust challenge the whole field of stem cell research.”