Stem cells are unspecialized cells, which have a potential to develop into different types of
cells in the body. When a stem cells divides, each new cell has a potential to remain a stem
cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function such as a muscle cell, a
red blood cell, brain cell etc.
Stem cell therapy uses stem cells to create living and functional tissues to regenerate and
repair tissues and organs in the body that are damaged due to age, disease and congenital
defects. Stem cells have the power to go to these damaged areas and regenerate new cells and
tissues by performing a repair and a renewal process, restoring functionality.
There are many different types of stem cell therapies being used at different clinics all over
the world, most of these therapies have not been proven by clinical trials and are being
carried out illegally for extortionate prices. Different stem cells are used in different trials,
the main ones being adult stem cells, foetal stem cells and embryonic stem cells.
Different adult stem cells are used in many clinics and are injected into the blood, the lumbar
region or the damaged tissue. A few examples are:
- In San Jose, Costa Rica stem cells taken from fat tissue are used to treat multiple sclerosis.
Research to cure MS is also being carried out in the UK where the MS society are funding a
project which looks at the long term effects – however no approved treatment has yet been
- In Korea adult stem cells are being injected into coronary arteries in attempt to cure heart
attack victims. The stem cells will help damaged cells recover and regenerate. After six years
of trials all the procedures have been finalised and the treatment has been approved
Foetal stem cells are also commonly used:
- In Moscow, 2001, several injections of foetal neural stem cells were used to cure ataxia
telangiectasia in a young boy.
- In Shanghai stem cells from umbilical cord or adipose tissue were used to cure autism/MS.
- Stem cells from aborted foetuses were also injected to treat autism.
- EmCell medical centre in the Ukraine began treating types 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus in 1992
using human embryonic stem cells. Since then it has been using treatments which cure
AIDS/MS and have recently begun to offer them for cancer/Parkinson’s disease. The
treatment works by the administration of stem cells to the patient either intravenously or
subcutaneously, the cells then migrate to the correct site, multiply and specialize. There is no
scientific evidence that these treatments are successful and American research has found that
under certain conditions hESCs can form tumours or teratomas and that there is no evidence
that the cells would remain healthy or even differentiate into the correct type. In America
trials were put on hold for hESCs in 2009.
It has been proven by trials that blood disorders, bone marrow transplantation and rare
immune deficiencies have been cured using adult stem cells.
There have been a number of success stories that have been linked to these stem cell
treatments. One of the most dramatic results came from Costa Rica, where doctors have
treated between 50-70 multiple sclerosis patients with implants using adult stem cells taken
from fat tissue. One wheelchair bound patient was able to stand after two months of
A stem cell implant into a patient’s pancreas in peru was used to treat his type 2 diabetes. The
treatment had positive results, as he was no longer required to regularly inject insulin – he is
now free to eat whatever he wants.
In Beijing, although no official data has been published from their clinical trials, autistic
patients have shown marked improvements in their condition a couple of weeks after
However, there have also been a large number of failed attempts of these treatments. For
example, one patient received several injections of fetal neural stem cells at a clinic in
Moscow to treat his rare degenerative brain disease, Ataxia telangiectasia. The treatment lead
to recurring headaches, and, following a scan on his brain it was revealed abnormal growths
in his brain and spinal cord. The tumour was found to have derived from the transplanted
neural stem cells.
Additional complications have arisen from various stem cell treatments. Stem-cell implants in
China used to treat chronic spinal chord injury resulted in some patients contacting
meningitis after the operation. Nervous system complications and infections have also been
Side effects: Stem cell tourism promises terminally ill patients safe and effective treatment.
However, many side effects have been found from those treatments: from our failed case
studies, it was indicated that patients developed tumours and some treatments led to death
cases. They are causing real harm. The treatments inject stem cells into children brains and
we are not really sure what they are actually doing during the therapies.
Financial exploitation: These treatments are very expensive. This includes coming to
therapies couple of times, travel expenses etc. Therefore in total it could end up being
hundreds of thousands dollars
Sold to the public: headlines for desperate moms with sick children, good news stories (only
positive testimonials), and mostly children are treated.
There are many international clinics advertising unproven therapies but a closer look shows
that there is no information about the types of stem cells being used this kind of permissive
regulation can lead to more harm than good, in 2010 a doctor in the uk was treating patients
with stem cells from cows the impure cells caused more damage than help. Countries such as
the uk and America have regulatory frameworks that require a demonstration of efficacy and
safety where as many countries have a more permissive attitude on regulations for stem cell
therapy. Also unsure how much damage these unregulated treatments cause as there is an
absence of comprehensive regulation which means no comprehensive follow up. There is also
no provision for a long term follow up so there is no hard evidence for the long term effects.
Most clinical trials occur in the uk and America but the therapeutic clinics are mostly in china
mexico and costa rica this shows that most countries that treat people with stem cells don’t
have as much research to back there treatments. International society for stem cell research
tried to list effective and ineffective clinics but were charged with business defamation- even
if they had won the trial would not have the money for the litigation so took down posting. In
Australia there is stringent standards on manufacturing of cells for therapy but these are
limited to donating cells so clinics found a loophole where they take out cells from the patient
alter them and put them back in the patient. The unregulated can be very harmful but with
stem cells there is no reason for people to pay any attention to what is going on in the world
with them and the people who do pay attention are sick and desperate and will do anything
for a chance of treatment.
o Intranational regulations - Law overseeing therapies and researches should
not apply in another nation; physicians and investigators who do not want to
adhere to these rues can move to a different country
o International agreements can help to close this regulatory gap
Educating patients and physician
o Educating patients about the risks of unproven therapies can help to address
stem cell tourism problems. Limitation: people might ignore warning and
o Educating physicians on the dangers of the unproven stem cells therapy.
Limitations: many may not receive such education or may ignore it. Also, it’s
hard to for doctors to convince their patients especially when conventional
treatments have failed
o Obligation to avoid causing harm and an obligation to avoid causing harm
and an obligation to benefit the public
o Open to public since they provide the funds for scientists.
o Scientists understand the science behind stem cells, there fore they can
evaluate the validity of the different uses of stem cells.
Refuse to share
o Cell lines and material with physicians or investigators whom they believe
might be behaving irresponsibly; to decide who is a responsible person they
can use CV, supply documentation, a research, clinical research etc.
MTA – provide a contract between institutions for exchange of material regarding stem
o No transplants on human unless approved by FDA
o Must follow scientific ethical guidel
Some might argue that this goes against the scientific openness where scientists must
share their data in order for science to progress, however, there are times when this
can be superseded due to protection of confidentiality of participants, securing
information or preventing bioterrorism
There is no full understanding of stem cell treatment from the public- when people seek the
treatment it shows how people fall victim to false promises when facing great obstacles and
spend large sums of money with no guarantee of the outcome, however should reason and
evidence matter, or should they given this opportunity for some hope when the only other
option is doing nothing. There is so much optimism for stem cells in the future many
scientists and regulators are concerned providers are exploiting patient’s hopes and