Expensive, sham stem cell therapies are being hawked directly to desperate patients over the Internet, experts say. In response, the leading organization of stem cell scientists on Wednesday issued guidelines to steer research in the field toward responsible, practical uses.The new guidelines were published in the December issue of Cell Stem Cell.
Accordingly, the guidelines, written by a task force of stem cell specialists from 13 countries, addressed issues of ethical review, quality and safety of the stem cells; voluntary informed consent of participants in research projects along with careful monitoring of these volunteers and caution in using stem-cell-based therapies outside a research context.
In an accompanying commentary, Canadian researchers analyzed 19 Web sites unearthed by a regular Google search, all of which peddled expensive stem cell therapies for everything from stroke to allergies. Different clinics in China (Beike Biotech), the Ukraine (ACT) and elsewhere claim to have treated thousands of patients for neurological disorders including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury and Alzheimer’s disease, congenital conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy, as well as allergies, heart conditions and even cosmetic procedures. However, the University of Alberta team was unable to find any studies that had even investigated stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease or for Alzheimer’s, for example.