With the claims of stem cell proponents hovering just on the edge of believability, sifting fact from fiction can be rather difficult…


Su Chun Zhang

From Stanford Medicine:

On the surface it seems easy. Overseas stem cell “clinics” peddling unproven treatments to desperate and dying patients, charging tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being injected with mysterious concoctions of cells meant to cure almost every ailment: What’s not to hate? But for many patients, the issue is more complex than it may at first seem. To them, the fact that a treatment has not been thoroughly tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is a minor detail, with hope trouncing logic in a world where mainstream medicine can sometimes neither cure nor alleviate suffering. The result is a booming international business that is growing every year, thanks in large part to the Internet and the savvy marketers who prey on patients’ fears.

“What we’re hearing on these websites promoting these unproven treatments is that regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical industry don’t want you to get better,” says Douglas Sipp, the manager of scientific communications at RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, and an international expert on the marketing of such treatments around the world. “And this resonates with people who are, in many cases, seriously ill, and who are frustrated by the perceived lack of progress in established medicine.

With people who are so sick, comes the opportunity and risk of exploitation, says Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, director of the National Institute of Health’s Department of Bioethics and special advisor for health policy in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. “These overseas clinics are charging a very vulnerable population a lot of money for treatments that are unproven and are operating with no oversight and no monitoring,” says Emanuel.

And in fact, there’s really no way to know exactly what patients are receiving as part of their “treatment.”

“Peddling Hope”, Krista Conger, Stanford Medicine