Stem Cell Tourism: Go For A Cure, End Up With A Tumor

Unregulated stem cell tourism has risks that left one man in a wheelchair.

[DIGEST: STAT, Natural Society, Boston Globe, New York Times, New England Journal of Medicine]

Medical tourism – traveling to another country to obtain treatment – isn’t a new concept, but the lure of unregulated stem cell therapy has patients risking their lives for a miracle cure.  

Stem cell therapy is on the cutting edge of medical research, and scientists believe stem cells have the potential to treat or even heal conditions like multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The key word is potential. The Food and Drug Administration considers the stem cells used in most US clinics to be biological drugs, and many years of clinical trials are necessary to prove that treatments are safe and effective. The only approved stem cell therapy in the US is bone marrow transplant, a treatment for leukemia.

Stem Cell
Credit: Source.

The FDA has cracked down on US clinics, requiring approval even for treating a patient with their own cells, but overseas clinics don’t have the same constraints – or oversight. Stem cell clinics around the world promise cures for everything from knee injuries to muscular dystrophy to strokes.

“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,” said Alta Charo, a law and bioethics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That’s what happened to Jim Gass. After a stroke in 2009, Gass was unable to walk without a leg brace and a cane. “I began doing research on the internet,” Gass said. “The consensus

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