I was talking with a group of people recently and the topic of stem cell therapies came up. I was stunned at the level of understanding this group of people believed they have about the science. They spoke about their friends with stem cell companies.They mentioned all sorts of “backed by doctors” treatments. And they did not want to entertain the idea that perhaps not all of this is safe.
Regenerative medicine is a controversial field, still in its infancy. There are academic researchers and major biotech companies testing key treatments in high-profile, vetted clinical trials. The progress being made, and the success being achieved causes my poet’s heart to leap in joy, admiration, and hope for the future. Medical problems deemed incurable are changing status. The medical landscape is shifting.
But there are also fringe clinics promising stem cell injections that can cure everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cerebral palsy, though they have no evidence to back up those claims. Indeed, it is difficult to separate what is a legitimate therapy versus what is a scam offering. So, what is real and what is hype?
Here are some places to start educating yourself so you can identify real versus scam stem cell therapies.
Social Media Distortion
When news breaks – whether the story of a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster – people increasingly turn to the internet and social media for news and information. Social media platforms are distinct from traditional broadcast and print media. But they’ve become powerful tools for communicating rapidly and without intermediary gatekeepers, like editors.
The problem is that social media is also a great way to spread misinformation, too. Millions of Americans shape their ideas on complex and controversial scientific questions –things like personal genetic testing, genetically modified foods, and their use of antibiotics – based on what they see on social media. Even many traditional news organizations and media outlets report incomplete aspects of scientific studies, or misinterpret the findings and highlight unusual claims. Once these items enter the social media echo chamber, they’re amplified. The facts become lost in the shuffle of competing information, limited attention or both.
“In recent years, we have seen a huge proliferation of unproven stem cell therapies offered around the world and right here in the United States,” remarked NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, JD. “There are known and proven stem cell therapies on the market today; however, the vast majority of stem cell treatments that are marketed for a huge breadth of devastating diseases are not only unproven – which means there’s no data to show that they work – but they also can be harmful to patients.”
Experts Peter Marks, MD, PhD (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), Timothy Caulfield, LLM, FRSC, FCAHS (University of Alberta), Valentina Fossati, PhD (The NYSCF Research Institute), and Jeffrey Kahn, PhD, MPH (Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics) explore the science behind legitimate stem cell therapies and what these unproven stem cell clinics are offering patients.
Stem cells have been called everything from cure-alls to miracle treatments. Some unscrupulous providers offer stem cell products that are both unapproved and unproven. So, beware of potentially dangerous procedures—and confirm what’s really being offered before you consider any treatment. Researchers hope stem cells will one day be effective in the treatment of many medical conditions and diseases. But unproven stem cell treatments can be unsafe. It’s important to get all the facts if you’re considering any treatment.
9 Things to Know
Stem cells have tremendous promise to help us understand and treat a range of diseases, injuries and other health-related conditions. Their potential is evident in the use of blood stem cells to treat diseases of the blood, a therapy that has saved the lives of thousands of children with leukemia; and can be seen in the use of stem cells for tissue grafts to treat diseases or injury to the bone, skin and surface of the eye. Important clinical trials involving stem cells are underway for many other conditions and researchers continue to explore new avenues using stem cells in medicine.
There is still a lot to learn about stem cells, however, and their current applications as treatments are sometimes exaggerated by the media and other parties who do not fully understand the science and current limitations, and by “clinics” looking to capitalize on the hype by selling treatments to chronically ill or seriously injured patients.
There are nine things to know to help you spot misinformation that is widely circulated by clinics offering unproven treatments.It is important to discuss the information you gather with the trusted members of your healthcare team in deciding what is right for you.