Use of Unproven Stem Cell Therapy Questioned

Posted: December 6, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Robert Vondracek has had multiple sclerosis for 20 years. His speech is starting to slur and he's been having more trouble getting around, and when he heard about a controversial stem cell therapy that might help, he got excited.

"I heard about the stem cell treatments being done right here in Phoenix," said Vondracek, 61. "It shocked me because it was not approved in this country, I didn't think."

The therapy was offered by an Arizona plastic surgeon who gives the stem cell treatments in the same clinic where he does cosmetic procedures.

But when Vondracek's neurologist heard about his interest in the therapy, which would cost $7,000 per treatment, "He went crazy," said Vondracek. He strongly advised Vondracek against it.

Plastic surgeons, other doctors and naturopaths at more than 100 clinics round the country are charging thousands of dollars for a controversial procedure called stem cell therapy to treat a range of disorders, including neurological diseases like MS and Parkinson's.

Robert Vondracek and his girlfriend, Terese Knapik.

The procedure has angered many neurologists and prominent researchers who say these doctors are preying on vulnerable people and capitalizing on the huge but still unrealized potential of stem cell research, which they say is years away from producing an approved treatment for neurological diseases.

"Peddling snake oil in the guise of stem cell therapies is really a threat to legitimate research," said Dr. George Daley, director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Boston Children's Hospital, past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

"Finding cures is hard, it takes sometimes decades, it's extremely expensive and it's not something that we can just wish and hope for," he said. "It can only be achieved through very, very hard work."

Dr. George Daley is a nationally recognized expert on stem cells at Boston Childrens Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

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Use of Unproven Stem Cell Therapy Questioned

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