Over the years on a fairly regular basis I’ve been contacted by patients seeking information about stem cell treatments and stem cell clinics. Note that patients may want to check out my stem cell patient guide, which has key questions and advocates for a critical, skeptical view of these offerings.
But in 2012 the number of patients asking me about stem cell treatments and clinics has skyrocketed.
The emails and phone calls have markedly increased. Other stem cell scientists and people at legit stem cell companies are telling me the same thing:
Dramatically higher patient contacts.
I believe the strikingly higher number of patients reaching out mostly reflects (A) more dubious stem cell clinics and practitioners in (or from outside but tapping into) the American market and (B) a deeper penetrance in the American consciousness of stem cells as an alternative form of medicine.
When most people think of dubious treatments, what comes to their mind is patients traveling outside the U.S. for treatments, but I’m telling you more and more people are getting these treatments right here in the U.S. Others are getting the treatment outside the U.S., but are recruited inside the U.S.
I believe we’ve reached a dangerous, epidemic level of dubious treatments.
Why do I use that word “epidemic”? Because, the clinics I am referring to put patients in danger strictly for the goal of profit. They fly under the radar and do not engage with the FDA at all. These are not clinics or physicians that you hear about in the news or on this blog. Many have no clear track record in the stem cell field.
Some of these rogue clinics are highly sophisticated. Others are what I call “mom and pop” operations and it is not unusual for them to operate out of a strip mall. It seems the word has got out that a quick way to make some money is selling “stem cells” to vulnerable patients. It is a simple matter to find dozens of such clinics by searching the Internet.
Not only does this rapid growth in dubious clinics put patients directly at risk, but also collectively they strain the FDA, which is not staffed to keep up. I think we may now have crossed a dangerous tipping point I referred to a few months ago where the FDA simply no longer has the manpower to police all these clinics that together offer treatments for a wide range of ailments, cosmetic treatments, and sports medicine.
We are in danger of reaching the “whack-a-mole” point in the stem cell field, where action against one clinic seems almost futile as one or two more simply pop up elsewhere.
These rogue clinics and docs are a direct threat to not only the stem cell field as a whole, but also to legitimate stem cell operations that have engaged with the FDA and are trying to help patients.
What to do?
The stem cell community including scientists needs to step up to the plate and publicly do more to educate patients. Help from the mainstream media would also be appreciated.
Perhaps the FDA needs additional staffing or we need more action by the FBI or other legal authorities.
The clock is ticking. How many patients have to die?