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Ten things patients should know when considering a stem cell treatment

June 9, 2010 |  2:39 pm

If you’re a patient considering a treatment based on stem cells, check out this new Top 10 list from the International Society for Stem Cell Research first.

Stemcell The ISSCR compiled this list of the “Top Ten Things to Know About Stem Cell Treatments” to counter some of the exaggerated claims being aggressively promoted on the Internet and in clinics. Here’s how ISSCR President Irv Weissman, a longtime stem cell researcher at Stanford University, put it in a press release:

Stem cells do hold tremendous promise for the treatment of many serious diseases. Yet there are organizations out there that are preying on patients’ hopes, offering stem cell treatments – often for large sums of money – for conditions where the current science simply does not support its benefit or safety.

The Top 10 list is designed to help patients tell whether a doctor of clinic is above-board. It explains what stem cells are and how they work. In doing so, it also explains why some of the claims being made today aren’t supported by science.

For instance, if a clinic says it can treat a variety of ailments using a single type of stem cell, that’s “a major warning sign." In addition, patients should “be wary” of clinics that say they can use stem cells from one part of the body and use them to treat another part.

The list also makes the useful points that patient testimonials are no substitute for rigorous scientific review, and that experimental treatments aren’t necessarily part of a clinical trial – especially when patients are asked to pay for them.

The ISSCR’s website includes a list of questions that patients should ask their doctors about stem cell treatments and videos from experts explaining why true stem cell therapies take so long to develop. If you’re curious about a particular clinic, you can even ask the ISSCR to review it.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Clinics, like this one in Costa Rica, have come under fire for promoting unproven stem cell treatments to naive and desperate patients. Credit: Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters