Medical tourism in spotlight as experts call for tighter regulation

July 5, 2017, University of Edinburgh
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Countries should unite to tackle unscrupulous advertising of unproven therapies involving stem cells, experts say.

An international group of leading experts has called for tighter regulation of so-called stem cell tourism. This involves travelling to other countries, where medical regulations are less strict, for with potentially unsafe therapies.

Hundreds of medical centres around the world are offering therapies that involve transplantation of so-called stem cells—which they claim have the ability to repair damaged tissues. Clinics are marketing the treatment for a range of conditions, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

Often these therapies are advertised directly to patients with the promise of a cure. But experts say there is often no evidence to show that the treatments will help anyone, or will not cause harm.

Researchers say the practice risks undermining the development of rigorously tested, validated therapies and puts lives at risk.

Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the group has called for coordinated global action to tackle the problem.

They say tighter regulations on advertising are needed, so that unsupported claims about potential clinical benefits do not go unchallenged.

Global regulatory authorities should agree international standards for the manufacture and testing of cell and tissue-based therapies, they add.

The group—which includes experts from the University of Edinburgh—also calls for the World Health Organization to help guide responsible clinical use of cells and tissues, as it does for medicines and medicinal devices.

Their appeal follows the deaths of two children at a clinic in Germany in 2010, which exploited a legal loophole to offer untested treatments. The clinic has since been closed.

Dr Sarah Chan, a Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Many patients feel that potential cures are being held back by red tape and lengthy approval processes. Although this can be frustrating, these procedures are there to protect patients from undergoing needless treatments that could put their lives at risk.

"Stem cell therapies hold a lot of promise but we need rigorous clinical trials and regulatory processes to determine whether a proposed treatment is safe, effective and better than existing treatments."

Some types of stem cell transplantation - mainly blood and skin stem —have been approved to treat certain types of cancer and to grow skin grafts for patients with severe burns. These treatments have been rigorously tested in clinical trials.

Explore further: Unproven stem cell therapies for lung disease on the rise despite promise of new treatments

More information: D. Sipp at Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan el al., "Marketing of unproven stem cell-based interventions: A call to action," Science Translational Medicine (2017). stm.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/ … scitranslmed.aag0426

Related Stories

Unproven stem cell therapies for lung disease on the rise despite promise of new treatments

August 11, 2016
Stem cell medical tourism and unproven stem cell interventions are growing and concerning issues for patients afflicted with lung disease. According to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers, there are an ...

Nature reports on unapproved stem-cell therapies in China

April 12, 2012
(Phys.org) -- A report in the journal Nature on the extent of unapproved stem-cell treatments in China has found that the practice is still widespread and is attracting thousands of medical tourists to the country.

Stem cells seem speedier in space

March 20, 2017
Growing significant numbers of human stem cells in a short time could lead to new treatments for stroke and other diseases. Scientists are sending stem cells to the International Space Station to test whether these cells ...

Stem cell study paves the way for patient therapies

November 26, 2015
Stem cells that have been specifically developed for use as clinical therapies are fit for use in patients, an independent study of their genetic make-up suggests.

Blood study insight could improve stem cell therapy success

May 12, 2017
Researchers have pinpointed a key enzyme that is vital for the production of fresh blood cells in the body. The enzyme is essential for the survival of specialised stem cells that give rise to new blood cells, the study found. ...

US clinics avoiding government oversight of 'stem cell' treatments

May 1, 2015
Clinics across the United States are advertising stem cell treatments that attempt to take advantage of what they perceive as exceptions in FDA regulations, according to bioethicist Leigh G. Turner, PhD, Associate Professor, ...

Recommended for you

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

Adequate consumption of 'longevity' vitamins could prolong healthy aging, nutrition scientist says

October 16, 2018
A detailed new review of nutritional science argues that most American diets are deficient in a key class of vitamins and minerals that play previously unrecognized roles in promoting longevity and in staving off chronic ...

Age at which women experience their first period is linked to their sons' age at puberty

October 12, 2018
The age at which young women experience their first menstrual bleeding is linked to the age at which their sons start puberty, according to the largest study to investigate this association in both sons and daughters.

First ever meta-analysis on Indian lead exposure reveals link to devastating intellectual disability in children

October 12, 2018
New Macquarie University research has revealed the devastating disease burden associated with elevated blood lead levels in India. The results of the first ever meta-analysis of Indian blood lead levels found the burden of ...

The long-term effects of maternal high-fat diets

October 12, 2018
If a mother eats a high-fat diet, this can have a negative effect on the health of her offspring—right down to her great-grandchildren. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers at ETH Zurich from a study with mice.

Sit-stand office desks cut daily sitting time and appear to boost job performance

October 11, 2018
Sit-stand workstations that allow employees to stand, as well as sit, while working on a computer reduce daily sitting time and appear to have a positive impact on job performance and psychological health, finds a trial published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.