January 21, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

Stem cell tourism: from bad to worse from 2010-2011

At last year’s ISSCR 2010 Meeting in San Francisco, President Irv Weissman talked about the dangers of unvalidated stem cell treatments. He talked about the responsibility of stem cell scientists to stand against these and the importance for scientists not to endorse or serve on advisory committees of companies peddling such products and “therapies”.

As I sat in the audience, I thought it was important when Weissman very bluntly said they are:

Beware of “someone trying to treat your wallet and not you”.

I was encouraged that collectively us scientists were not only aware of the problem, but were doing something about it.

A year later and I’m discouraged very discouraged. What was Irv’s message this year?


At this year’s 2011 ISSCR meeting, Irv talked about how the ISSCR website devoted to reigning in stem cell tourism and unregulated, unproven clinics had been shut down due to threat of lawsuits from the clinics’ lawyers, effectively asking “What do we do now?”. No one had an answer.

So in the past year the situation with these potentially dangerous clinics has if anything just gotten worse as I discussed on last week’s podcast. This is not Irv’s fault of course. I think it is actually not the job of the ISSCR to police stem cell clinics. Rather it is the FDA’s responsibility.

Unfortunately, the number of products and “treatments” involving stem cells continues to rapidly increase just as it was last year as are the advertisements for such products.

I have written before about the dangers of stem cell tourism. However, the number of people trying to take our money for alleged stem cell-related services and products is increasing so fast even just here in the U.S. that we may not have to travel far to give them our money and in some cases you can get them off the internet.

If you simply Google “Stem Cells”, the side bar lights up with Ads. Some are totally legit. Some are downright frightening.  One problem is that the ads for legit and frightening places are all mixed together, giving them all an air of legitimacy. The same is true for searches on Yahoo. Google and Yahoo do not care–they are simply money-making machines. In a way, I don’t totally blame them because once Yahoo and Google starting censoring their ads, where do they stop? But it is still worrisome.

Frequently the ads show pictures of patients and stories about their successful treatments. Often these are children.

Clicking on one of these ads, I see that places might charge thousands of dollars for a non-FDA approved treatment.

If you are considering any such treatment for yourself or a family member, use extreme caution. Learn all you can. I wouldn’t let anyone I know get a non-FDA approved stem cell treatment unless I had talked to our own personal doctors first.

One would hope the FDA would crack down on all this stuff.

Why don’t they?

It is a huge mystery to me. Are they waiting for someone to be killed by one of these treatments as has happened in other clinics, most recently in Germany?  In Germany it was the death of a baby that finally led to the questionable clinic being shutdown. We have an opportunity to prevent that from happening in the U.S., but it must be prevented at the federal level.

Stem cell tourism is spreading like wildfire on the Internet, not just medical treatments but also medicines.

If you search for “stem cells” on Ebay, some scary things pop up as well.

I thought this situation was bad in 2010, but it is even worse in 2011 and we can only expect this to get worse. One glimmer of hope is the rumor percolating through the stem cell field that the feds are working behind the scenes to perhaps eventually take some action…we can only hope this becomes a reality.

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