Stem cell warning: experts fear experimental treatments will lead to serious injury

Posted: December 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

Patients who undergo experimental stem cell treatments run the risk of serious injury, Australian experts have warned.

A team of leading stem cell scientists say the treatments, which involve injecting patients with stem cells from their own fat deposits, have become available to Australian consumers without the protection of regulation or evidence of benefits.

Stem Cells Australia, a consortium of medical and scientific researchers from eight leading Australian universities and research institutes, raised concerns after it became clear the treatments, which are popular overseas, had spread to Australia.

They say vulnerable people with degenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease, are being misled into paying up to $9,000 on stem cell therapies with little or no evidence of the benefits.

However, the industry says there is some good evidence available and treatments are safe as long as patients are only injected with their own unaltered cells.

Practising doctors are forming an industry group to write a code of conduct to keep patients safe.

In a submission to the National Health and Medical Research Council, Stem Cells Australia says many of the practices used by overseas doctors are now being witnessed among Australian practitioners.

These include direct-to-consumer marketing, using patient testimonials instead of evidence, offering the same treatments for unrelated illnesses, lack of safety evidence, no results in peer-reviewed journals, and hefty fees.

Program leader Professor Martin Pera says stem cell treatments are falling through a regulatory loophole because patients are treated with their own cells.

"What's going on is a large scale human experiment without proper scientific procedure and without proper regulatory oversight," he said.

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Stem cell warning: experts fear experimental treatments will lead to serious injury

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