Ineffective Stem Cell Therapies Becoming Global Health Problem

Stem cell medical tourism increasingly takes advantage of patients with debilitating conditions.

Stem cell medical tourism preys on patients with debilitating diseases, and has become an increasing problem worldwide.

In an article published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, researchers stated there are an increasing number of clinics worldwide offering pricey stem cell-based therapies that are ineffective or have no proven benefit. In particular, these concerns are growing for patients with lung disease.

“Remarkably, an increasing number of these clinics now operate within the United States,” said lead study author Laertis Ikonomou, PhD. “It is imperative that scientific and medical societies, as well as professional respiratory disease and critical care communities speak out forcefully against stem cell tourism.”

There is a significant difference between experts and the general public of their perceptions of stem cell-based therapies, Ikonomou noted. Experts evaluate therapies based on demonstrations of safety and efficacy, while many patients are motivated by hope and their desperation for a cure.

Several factors that exacerbate these perceptions include aggressive and unscrupulous advertisement of unproven stem cell therapies; uncritical, and overly optimistic portrayals of stem cell clinical translation in the mainstream media; the use of selected and uncontrolled patient testimonials that suggest benefit; and a reluctance of experts to be speak-out against stem cell tourism for fear of political backlash and litigation.

“The problem of stem cell medical tourism of unproven, unregulated cell therapies can be best tackled through international collaboration, and engagement and education of all parties including patients, physicians, and other caregivers and scientists,” Ikonomou said. “We can turn the tide on this global health problem by vigorously implementing a multi-pronged strategy that combines continuous education of the public, pressure for effective regulations, and rigorous research in the field of lung regenerative medicine.”