Stricter regulation needed for stem cell tourism: experts

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Stricter regulation is needed to rein in stem cell tourism involving patients who travel to other countries for treatment with potentially unsafe therapies, international health experts have said.

Writing in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine, these experts warned of “unscrupulous” advertising by hundreds of medical centers worldwide to promote unproven stem cell therapies to treat a range of conditions, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

These therapies are often advertised directly to patients with the promise of a cure, but there is often no evidence to show that the treatments will help anyone, or will not cause harm, the experts said.

There are a total of 15 experts from the U.S., Britain, Canada, Italy, Belgium and Australia who made the call.

“The growth of the industry engaged in direct-to-consumer online marketing of unproven stem cell interventions has become impossible to ignore,” they wrote.

“Effective measures for regulating this sector both nationally and internationally are urgently needed.”

They called for international standards for the manufacture and testing of cell and tissue-based therapies.

Specially, the experts wanted the World Health Organization to help guide responsible clinical use of cells and tissues, as it does for medicines and medicinal devices.
“Many patients feel that potential cures are being held back by red tape and lengthy approval processes,” one of the experts, Sarah Chan of the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement.

“Although this can be frustrating, these procedures are there to protect patients from undergoing needless treatments that could put their lives at risk,” Chan said.

“Stem cell therapies hold a lot of promise but we need rigorous clinical trials and regulatory processes to determine whether a proposed treatment is safe, effective and better than existing treatments.”

Some types of stem cell transplantation — mainly blood and skin stem cells — have been approved to treat certain types of cancer and to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns, according to the experts.

But these treatments have been rigorously tested in clinical trials, they added.

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