So far in my series of eight simple reasons not to get an unlicensed stem cell treatment I’ve covered three compelling reasons: potential loss of insurance coverage for negative outcomes that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, failure of patient follow up by the doctors and clinics, and exclusion from future clinical trial participation.
Today in my fourth segment I’m covering something that while very simple, seems to fly under the radar of most patients getting unlicensed stem cell treatments: undesired tissue growth.
So what are stem cells again? They are multipotent cells that can also self-renew. What this means is that the stem cells can make multiple other types of stem cells or more of themselves. Focusing on the former quality, even adult stem cells such as the ever-touted adipose-derived MSCs can express multiple personalities. They can form more of themselves, but also they can make fat, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, and other cell types.
That’s good right?
Well, yes and no.
It’s good if you want to make a variety of cell types, but it is bad in the sense that MSCs are being used by unlicensed clinics in very “blunt” ways. An example of this is the “stem cell face lift” in which fat MSCs are injected into the face. If they just make a bit of subcutaneous fat then in theory they could “smooth out” wrinkles, but what if these MSCs decide for whatever reason they will become an undesired tissue type in your face?
For example, what if in your cheek skin a piece of cartilage forms and attaches to the underlying cheek bone?
What if the MSCs sprout a mass of blood vessels or bone in your face?
Dr. Allan Wu presented just such a case at this year’s World Stem Cell Summit, discussing the case of a woman who had received a stem cell facelift conducted by another physician. After treatment the woman fairly quickly developed a serious, but puzzling eye problem. Dr. Wu investigated and determined that injected MSCs for the face-lift had grown bone in the skin next to her eye, bone that grew onto existing tissue and could blinded this woman in that eye.
This is serious.
Take home message: You can’t just assume that adipose-derived MSCs will do only one thing especially in the context of treatment administered by an unlicensed clinic. Other stem cells can also produce non-desired tissue growth. The power of stem cells in their mutlipotency (ability to form multiple cell types) also is something to be taken very seriously as a potential source of devastating negative outcomes from unlicensed therapies.