Important questions to ask when considering treatment at a stem cell clinic
Anyone who is thinking about stem cell therapy should consider these concerns and evaluate carefully the potential adverse events that will be outlined in the consent form usually provided before medical procedures are performed, and the clinic’s procedures for managing any complications which may arise during or following the procedure.
- What type of cells will be used for the procedure, and why?
- Does the clinic offer stem cell treatments for many different conditions? If the answer is yes, this is a warning sign. Because stem cells that are specific to certain tissues cannot make cells found in other tissues without careful manipulation in the lab, it is very unlikely that the same stem cell treatment will work for diseases affecting different tissues and organs within the body. Be wary of claims that stem cells will somehow just know where to go and what to do to treat a specific condition.
- What are the promised benefits of the procedure?
- Can the staff provide studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that show evidence that the same cells and techniques have proven benefit?
- What type of safety certifications does the clinic have? (In the U.S., the FDA has to approve the use of stem cells, even if they are taken from your own body if they are manipulated or used for any purpose other than their natural function. The cell production facility also should have accreditation from FACT -- the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy.)
- What is the source of the cells to be used for the procedure? (Cells other than those from a person’s own body may cause a severe immune attack known as graft-versus-host disease.)
- How were the cells obtained?
- What procedures are used to ensure the cells are free from contaminants and infectious agents?
- By what means will the cells be delivered into your body?
- What procedures are followed to ensure sanitary conditions?
- Will the procedure hurt or likely to cause other side effects?
- What are the potential risks of the procedure? (These should be outlined in the consent form you will be asked to sign.)
- How are potential risks monitored, and for how long? What procedures are used to follow the subsequent course of people who receive these treatments, and who reviews this information to detect potential problems?
- How will potential benefits be measured and over what time period, using what follow-up procedures?
- What are symptoms you should be looking for that may signal an adverse reaction to the procedure?
- How will potential complications be addressed?
- Will potential complications be covered by your health insurance?
- How much will you be expected to pay for the procedure and all other associated fees and travel?
If you don’t get satisfactory and specific answers to these questions, discuss your decision with your healthcare provider and proceed with extreme caution.
Red flags that should raise concern include:
- There is no research published in peer-reviewed journals using these cells and techniques to back up claims of benefit. Instead the clinic promotes testimonials from patients who have undergone the procedure;
- Cells are from an unknown source, or your own cells are being used for a purpose that is not part of their normal function;
- The clinic cannot show proof of certification;
- The treatment is claimed to be a cure;
- The clinic offer stem cell treatments for many different conditions
- You are not asked to read and sign a consent form outlining potential risks;
- The clinic has no procedures for addressing complications which arise after you leave, or for following the subsequent course of people who receive the therapy.
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