With more and more people are crossing borders or even oceans for medical treatments, a UW Law School Professor wants to raise awareness about “stem cell tourism.” Alta Charo, Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics, says unscrupulous operators are taking advantage of some with on-line claims for cures and treatments derived from embryonic stem cells.
“Those kinds of cells, which have much greater potential than the adult stem cells we’ve been using so far, are still in the research development stage,” she said. Charo says evidence for therapeutic use of stem cells is very limited, except for bone marrow stem cells. Nevertheless, patients all over the world are convinced stem cells will cure their disease.
“This is a global phenomenon of desperate patients going to fly-by-night clinics all over the world, that are advertising that they have therapies using stem cells, when there’s no evidence that the therapies are either effective or safe.”
Charo recommend that prospective patients seek information from reputable sources. Consumers can also raise concerns with the Federal Trade Commission. “As far as we know, they have not yet gotten a flood of complaints about these misleading ads, even though it has led many, many people to take themselves or their children to foreign countries and spend tens of thousands of dollars for treatments that don’t work at all, and in a few cases we have evidence were actually devastatingly harmful.”
In early February, an appeals court upheld the FDA’s ability to regulate manipulated stem cells as drugs. But Charo notes it takes a tremendous amount of effort to bring suit, prove the facts and win the appeal, all while other clinics may open up in the meantime.