Researchers Warn Americans to be Wary of “Stem Cell Tourism”

Researchers Warn Americans to be Wary of “Stem Cell Tourism”
Science & Medicine

Stem cells hold a lot of promise when it comes to healing the body, but too many people, believing stem cell research to be the holy grail of medical science, are willing to try untested procedures in an effort to treat what ails them.

That’s why Ohio State University scientists are calling on doctors to educate their patients about scientifically unproven stem cell treatments. They say a growing number of patients with incurable diseases are traveling the world looking for a solution, but what they find could wind up making them sicker. [1]

In a paper published Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology, the researchers write that patients with medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) are going to great lengths and distances to find a cure, and are often willing to try potentially harmful therapy. “Stem cell tourism,” as the scientists call it, has become increasingly popular over the last decade for patients with other diseases like cancer, as well.

“As neurologists, we can no longer ignore this issue, especially since its advertisements are frequently directed at our patients via social media and the Internet,” study author Dr. Jaime Imitola, a neurologist who specializes in treating patients with MS at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in a news release.

According to a 2013 article published by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), patients travel mostly to China, India, the Caribbean, Latin America and parts of the former Soviet Union.

Stem cells are very promising because they can form various types of cells in the body. But they also come with their fair share of risks.

Read: This Spice may Help Regenerate a Damaged Brain

“The evidence for therapeutic use of stem cells is very limited, except for bone marrow stem cells, but patients all over the world are convinced stem cells will cure their disease,” Alta Charo, a law and bioethics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, who is studying stem cell tourism, and wasn’t involved in the current study, said in 2014.

Imitola and his colleagues are urging the FDA, state medical boards and specialty licensing boards to team up with media to warn the public to be on their guard against American neurologists who encourage people to travel to foreign countries seeking stem cell treatments, and to help educate the public about its risks.

“We must help educate our patients not only in the clinic setting, but also by working with patient advocacy groups such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the ALS Association,” Imitola, who is also a member of Ohio State’s Neurological Institute, said in the release. “We all want to end the plight of our patients, and the challenges brought about by stem cell tourism are an opportunity for medical societies such as the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association to advocate against unsafe and unproven practices, and to end the exploitation of therapeutic hope.”

[1] Fox News