Last week a team led by John Rasko of the University of Sydney published a very important stem cell clinic study also in Cell Stem Cell. Thus, there have now been two new reports on the state of the stem cell clinic industry both here in the U.S. and more globally.
Leigh Turner and I published our paper at the end of June on the American clinic industry, finding 351 businesses and 570 clinics selling non-FDA approved stem cell therapies. Rasko and colleagues did a much more global analysis including international businesses and their search approaches were different. This is a really fascinating, key new stem cell paper. I highly recommend it.
They collected data on clinics all around the world, finding that this is a global phenomenon. The top ten countries by absolute number of clinics were the following: “USA (187 clinics), India (35), Mexico (28), China (23), Australia (19), UK (16), Thailand (14), Malaysia (12), Germany (11), and Indonesia (7)”.
Their team found somewhat fewer clinics than we did in the U.S., but their data also paint a picture of a large American industry marketing non-FDA approved stem cell interventions (see their map, Figure 1c, above).
It was notable and particularly concerning that they found in their novel international analysis that the U.S. is the global hotbed of stem cell clinic activity. They also found a very high concentration of stem cell clinics in Australia, particularly relative to the population size of that country. Australia had a higher frequency of clinics relative to population than the U.S.
I found their discussion of blurred lines quite fascinating. This is a topic that I have been concerned about recently (e.g. see here), but there just hasn’t been data on it until now with this paper. Interestingly, Rasko’s team found 67 academic medical centers (66 in the U.S.) marketing stem cell treatments. These tended to have a different treatment profile than the clinics (e.g. weighted toward hematopoietic treatments for malignancies).
Taken together these two papers shine new light on a large clinic industry of unproven stem cell interventions being directly marketed to consumers. The past paradigm of stem cell tourism whereby Americans and others travel to foreign countries for questionable interventions also seems very out of date now based on these two papers.
I hope that these studies as well as future similar work will catalyze additional productive discussions based on the new data (e.g. at the September FDA stem cell meeting) and lead to a careful consideration of regulatory oversight of experimental stem cell offerings moving forward.