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GLOBAL: Stem cell therapy and research still in its infancy

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has called for greater transparency and open evaluation of stem cell therapies. It is worried about stem cell clinics directly marketing to patients and using anecdotal evidence to support their medical claims. Most medical travel agencies venturing into stem cell treatments are quick to advise patients that many treatments are untested, and that not all therapies will work for all people.

Stem cell clinics are appearing all over Central Europe, South America, and Asia. Some are unlicensed, some don’t use stem cells at all, and many would have a difficult time proving that their treatments work, as the majority of stem cell use, embryonic or otherwise, is still in the clinical trial phase. Some people suffering from incurable or debilitating diseases neither can nor want to understand that it is mostly untested. The desperately ill are willing to take a chance, even a long shot to get healthy again. The longer it takes for tested and proven stem cell treatments to become available, the more questionable stem cell treatments will appear. Agents and hospitals need to keep this in mind.  

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) warns that stem cell research in India is still in its infancy and cautions about claims by any doctor regarding treatment based on personal testimony. ICMR says doctors should not claim anything without exposing their findings in the peer-reviewed scientific journals. Professor Alok Srivastava comments "Such claims hurt the feelings of patients suffering from muscular dystrophy and spinal injury as they get false hope on getting a miracle cure soon."

Stem cells have excited researchers and raised hopes of patients because of their potential to relieve symptoms or treat many diseases. They have become promising areas of new advances in medicine, since they can replace the diseased cell in our body in contrast to existing practice where diseased cells are treated with drugs and antibiotics. But stem cell research raises many ethical, legal, scientific and policy issues. ICMR is setting up the National Apex Committee for Stem Cell Research and Therapy (NAC-SCRT) to regulate the scientific community on the crucial health research of stem cell therapy. It will monitor and review stem cell research, technologies, techniques and clinical practices.

In the UK, in April, the General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that Dr Robert Trossell, who operates a clinic in Rotterdam but is registered with the GMC and has consulting rooms in London, exploited a number of patients with multiple sclerosis. Dr Trossell was paid sums of between £6,000 and £11,000 by patients after he claimed exaggerated success rates for stem cell treatments based on anecdotal information and for stem cell treatments that had only been tested on animals.   

Costa Rica has ordered the country's largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatment, saying there is no proof that it is

effective. 400 patients, mostly  from the United States, have been treated at the Institute of Cellular Medicine in San Jose for multiple sclerosis, arthritis, spinal injuries and other

illnesses.The Health Ministry  ordered the clinic, owned by Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, to stop performing the treatment, in which stem cells extracted from the patients are reinjected into their bodies.The ministry says the clinic is not authorized to perform the treatment. 

Are stem cells effectively used in human therapies today? Does the ability to reprogram adult stem cells mean we no longer need embryonic stem cell research? Is it true that the stem cells produced through genetic reprogramming may become cancerous? Embryonic stem cells are said to have so much promise, but when will they lead to cures? These questions are just some of those mostly frequently asked by a confused public searching for answers, according to doctors at the Stem Cell Program at Children's Hospital Boston  and they are among the primary reasons for launching a new website. Children's Hospital Boston has long been a leader in stem cell research, contributing many breakthroughs to the fields. Dr. Leonard Zon says,” When it comes to stem cells, there is still a high level of misunderstanding or confusion. Our goal with this site is to be a reliable source of stem cell-related information." The new site seeks to explain the science in readily understandable terms, to correct misperceptions, and to illuminate the power and value of different types of stem cells to create potential cures for a range of diseases.

Medical tourism news10 June 2010

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