June 8th, 2010
01:13 PM ET

New tool to evaluate stem cell clinic claims

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Concern over the aggressive marketing of stem cell treatments without solid evidence that the procedures actually work and are safe has led the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) to launch a website called “A Closer Look at Stem Cell Treatments”.

According to ISSCR, the website is meant to “arm patients, their families, and doctors with information they need to make decisions about stem cell treatments.”

ISSCR President and stem cell expert Dr. Irving Weissman began developing the idea for this website more than a year ago because of a growing concern that many clinics and websites offer stem cell treatments, without providing evidence that the treatments work and/or are safe.

“We want to clarify what would and would not be a safe stem cell therapy,” says Weissman.

Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, another prominent stem cell researcher and ISSCR board member says this is the first organized attempt by an international body to help patients with questions about what these clinics are offering.

For the past decade, the promise and controversy over stem cells has fueled a passionate debate among politicians, researchers and patients.

Questions over funding and the type of research has made a lot of headlines over the years. What the various types of stem cells can do now or in the future often is up for debate. But actual stem cell treatment advances that have reached patients (with the exception of bone marrow transplants, which have been done for 40 years now), are still few. Yet if you Google ‘stem cell treatments,’ you’ll get nearly half a million hits.

Clinics are often located in Asia or the Caribbean. Patients are often asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have stem cells injected into their bodies. Many clinics claim the injections of their stem cells have cured many different illnesses from autism to cancer to multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Testimonials on the web seem to confirm some of the claims of recovery. However, research that can be reproduced by others (the gold standard for confirming medical discoveries) is often lacking. Companies will claim their techniques are patented and they can’t reveal specifics due for proprietary reasons.

For a Canadian study published in 2008 in the peer-reviewed journal “Cell Stem Cell” researchers took a snapshot of the many websites by specifically looking at 19 sites advertising stem cell treatments to consumers. The study concluded “the portrayal of stem cell medicine on provider websites is optimistic and unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed literature.”

This newly launched website offers a variety of tools for patients and patients’ families, including the top 10 things to know about stem cell research and what questions to ask the clinics. The ISSCR also is asking people to submit names of clinics for the ISSCR to review. ISSCR plans to investigate the claims of these clinics and whether there’s a medical ethics committee involved to protect the rights of patients and if the clinics are under the supervision of a regulatory body like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency.

The ISSCR website will list whether the stem cell clinics do or do not provide the requested information. Weissman says "we're trying to let people know what's unapproved in those treatment clinics."

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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Lazarus

    Why would any doctor or clinic even WANT to submit for an ISSCR "review?" The ISSCR has proven its bias over and over again. So has CNN for that matter. I had a very successful stem cell treatment last year, one that has changed my life and improved my condition considerably. Not a complete cure, but many times more than "established" and "FDA-approved" medicine could ever hope to have accomplished. I'm fully aware that there are quacks out there looking to make a buck from unsuspecting prey. But the beauty of the legitimate small-time doctors and clinics and that they don't NEED to mess around with burdensome clinical trials and hypocritical, self- serving reviewers ("it's no good unless we say it is"). As long as I have options available to me, I'm not going to die waiting for the FDA and the ISSCR to catch up with reality.

    June 8, 2010 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MIP

      I second that statement the proof is in the patient recovery that " there is no hope for" if you stick with the FDA pharma companies & doctors whom are too scared to branch out & truly take care of their patients.. Politics have no place in healthcare. If I sat back & waited for FDA approved treatments I wouldve been attending a funeral instead of celebrating LIFE . People wake up & do your homework just because it is not in your backyard doesn't mean it is not real. There are blatant scam SCT places & then there are the real SCT places. Just the same there are scamming US doctors & there are good doctors. Most of these places that claim to evaluate whether or not SCT are legit or not, have some underlying vested interest in trashing SCT. Look into who payroll they are on, dig deep you will find what nobody wants to admit, these people are put in place via politics & companies that need to stay a float. What would thebig pharma companies do if we no longer needed to use their drugs, drug reps, manufacturing plants, doctors who push their drugs, & hospital whom accept the "bribes" associated with the exclusive use of their drugs??? The economy would completely bottom out, there would be millions out of work & if SCT were current day treatment we would be quite overpopulated with much longer life expectancies. What a disaster for the government huh!!
      There is more injustice & corruption in our government than most realize.
      For those who choose to stay ignorant it's too bad, but us well we have prioritized LIVING LIFE to it's fullest there is no time to waste waiting for corruption to dictate if one can LIVE or die.

      June 9, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse |
    • Yvette

      what is your diagnosis and how old are you? I am interested in doing to my 13 years old daughter who has cp and is spastic quaderplic. I am wondering would it help her.

      January 15, 2011 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
  2. antonio silva

    Dear Lazarus–as correct as you are, it is far worse. What we have here is a USA medical system which is not allowed to cure people of ANY chronic disease. Profitable useless pills approved by an incompetent FDA kill patients by the thousands and that is the GOLD STANDARD these charlatans at ISSCR are pushing.

    Back in 2002-3 there were articles every month in journals extolling adult stem cells. Effective 1/1/04 all that stopped and all we are allowed to hear about is the embryonic hoax which will never work on humans despite the THOUSANDS of embryonic “scientific” papers submitted to ISSCR The silly debate is meant ONLY to keep real stem cells from interfering with the profits of Weissman’s bosses.

    For this phony USSCR society exists for only one reason-to keep stem cells from interfering with $320,000,000 a day profits by Werisman’s bosses, who, you can be sure, have contributed hundreds of millions (chump change to them) to Weissman’s Stanford and to him.

    A few hundred millions of the same chump change to the FDA and you get stem cells prohibited forever. Promise CBS you will keep advertising toxic drugs on its network, and the already proven-corrupt (in 1996) 60Minutes will scream lies to the heavens.

    June 9, 2010 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. carina

    I just wish all of the b.s controversy over the wrongs and rights of stem cell would stop. My 13 year old son contracted transverse myelitis..and stem cell is our only hope. We believed in a doctor..and followed him around for 3 years..he promised us a clinical trial.. and the b.s of it all led to him leaving the field.

    June 22, 2010 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Larry Myers-Bratton

    I am a 64 yoa permanently & totally disabled veteran (230%). I suffer from the side-effects of AGENT ORANGE poisening. I have level 4 CHF–level 4 renal failure– insulin resistant typeII diabetes–my colon is a polyp farm– PAD–COPD–sleep apnia–degenerative disease of the cervical spine & hips--and the majority of my conditions would be far less serious if the US GOVT and the VA had decided to use interventionary measures instead of "take these pills and we will see you in 6 mo if you are still alive" !!! Many US medical researchers are studying stems today and providing treatment. UC/Irving–U of Pitt–Mayo– and many many others. WHY DO I HAVE TO DIE ?-–The help is out there but I am not allowed !!!!!

    June 27, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Larry Myers-Bratton

    I became so angry while making my last post that I forgot to mention that all of my teeth crumbled-away and that I have to contend with skin cancer along with early onset of prostate problems and enlargement. GOD Bless the US GOVT and the US medical establishment. You should know that many governments are supporting stem-cell treatment-England,Russia, The Ukraine, Germany, China and others are STATE sponsers of research and treatment.

    June 27, 2010 at 08:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rebecca

    Has Dr.Gupta (non-practicing) & CNN ever heard of Dr.Eherilch–and his "magic bullit" ? I think a lot of children woulld have died if he did not listened to his heart instead of the ESTABLISHMENT !

    June 27, 2010 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply

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