The International Society for Stem Cell Research has had enough. When the organization of stem cell scientists met last week in San Francisco, its leaders promised to get serious about unregulated stem cell treatments.
First, society president Irving Weissman declared his intention to “smoke out the charlatans,” New Scientist reported. The ISSCR is investigating its members who provide advice to clinics that offer experimental stem cell treatments (no such treatments have yet received FDA approval).
At a press briefing on 17 June, he revealed that these members are being told to explain their connections with such clinics. Expulsion from the society was a possibility for members who continue to associate themselves with unproven “therapies”, added Sean Morrison of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a member of the ISSCR board of directors [New Scientist].
Also this month, the society debuted its website aimed to inform people about stem cell treatments (and fraudulent claims). Says Weissman:
“Stem cells do hold tremendous promise for the treatment of many serious diseases. Yet there are organizations out there that are preying on patients’ hopes, offering stem cell treatments – often for large sums of money – for conditions where the current science simply does not support its benefit or safety” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel].
Authorities are putting the clamps on stem cells treatments abroad, too. Earlier this month Costa Rica shut down the stem cell treatments offered by a top clinic there that was run by an American. Stem cell tourists still have other countries they could flock to for unregulated treatments. But they might think twice after the news last week that a woman died from an experimental kidney treatment in Thailand.
Suffering patients may lose their patience at the slow pace of stem cell research, but Weissman says it’s critical to put a stop to quack treatments when the science is still so young:
“Probably 90 percent of what you hear at this conference won’t be even close to trials” [San Francisco Chronicle].
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