Medical Innovation Versus Stem Cell Tourism
The following article should be read by anyone considering stem cell therapy in the US or elsewhere. We found the information supportive of our endorsement of the protocol at Tec de Monterrey. Our colleague, Douglas Sipp of RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan was kind enough to provide this information to us.
Science 26 June 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5935, pp. 1664 - 1665
Stem cell tourism is a worrying new form of medical travel driven by hope and pretense. Clinics around the world are offering unproven stem cell–based therapies to desperate patients for an array of intractable medical conditions. Such stem cell clinics have come under attack by scientists, clinicians, and bioethicists on grounds that they exploit seriously ill patients and threaten legitimate progress in the stem cell field. These concerns have found support in two recent publications. An analysis by Lau et al. of online advertisements for stem cell therapies reveals that many clinics worldwide overpromise the benefits of their purported treatments and grossly downplay or ignore their attendant risks. And none backs up their claims with credible preclinical studies or other published scientific evidence. This is not simply another case of buyer beware; at stake is the potential for serious harm to vulnerable patients, many of whom may be too young to opt out of the proffered treatment. As a case in point, Amariglio et al. report of a child who developed tumors in his brain and spinal cord after being treated with a series of poorly defined fetal stem cell transplants administered at a stem cell clinic. One might conclude from these examples that stem cell tourism—as the travel metaphor suggests—is teeming with medical tourist traps selling inauthentic representations of real medical treatment to unsuspecting consumers. The solution, many would argue, is for scientists to work with regulatory bodies to tighten regulations in offending locales and better educate patients.
These are sensible responses, but we must proceed carefully. The difficulty lies in being able to distinguish clearly between objectionable stem cell tourism and legitimate attempts at medically innovative stem cell–based interventions. This is crucial for two reasons: First, failure to draw such a distinction makes it difficult to sanction against objectionable stem cell tourism and may hinder the development of ethically and scientifically responsible avenues for innovative stem cell–based care for patients with few or no acceptable alternatives. We must discourage objectionable stem cell tourism without eliminating the possibility of responsible medical innovation. Second, the general issue of medical travel is complex, and demonizing all stem cell tourism runs the risk of giving short shrift to patients’ legitimate ethical motivations for such travel. Patients are not to blame, since medical travel may represent for them their last grasp at hope. Indeed, medical travel occurs in other areas of medicine, often involving highly innovative interventions at great cost to seriously ill patients, as happens today in cardiac centers of excellence all over the United States. Likewise, medical travel now and in the future may include "proven stem cell therapies," i.e., stem cell–based treatments that. . .
To read the entire article, click here: Medical Innovation Versus Stem Cell Tourism