Stem cell clinics – things to think about
Exciting progress is being made through innovative and carefully conducted research related to the potential of many types of stem cells for slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system.
At present, there are no approved stem cell therapies for MS. There are different types of stem cells and the effects of receiving them depend on additional factors, including the specific procedures used to prepare and administer them, and biological conditions in the person to whom they are given. Stem cell therapy is still in the experimental stage, so it’s important for people to have the best available information to understand this exciting area of research and make decisions related to this complex issue.
In the U.S. and in other places around the world, for-profit stem cell clinics are appearing in increasing numbers. These clinics claim to have treated people with MS and people with many other disorders with stem cells. However, these clinics are unregulated and none have provided medical evidence that their treatments work or are safe.
Ohio State researchers recently reported results of a survey of academic neurologists in the United States regarding their patients who had traveled to clinics in the U.S. and abroad to receive stem cell procedures for MS and other neurological disorders. Of those survey responders who had patients who attended a stem cell clinic, 75% were not aware of a patient who experienced complications; however, 25% reported having patients whose stem cell procedures led to complications including strokes, meningoencephalitis, quadriparesis, MS deterioration, sepsis, hepatitis C, seizures, meningitis from intrathecal cell injections, infections and spinal cord tumors. At least three reported having patients who had died from these procedures. Read the abstract presented at the ACTRIMS meeting March 1, 2019
An earlier study published in June 2016 confirmed that many different types of unproven stem cell treatments are being offered in these clinics. The study highlighted concerns for the safety of people who undergo these treatments, emphasized the need for better oversight and raised ethical issues and regulatory concerns related to marketing unproven treatments for a range of health conditions.
The paper’s findings support the need for stem cell therapy to be explored in the context of carefully conducted clinical trials that can determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of cell therapies might be for people with MS.
For more details about this study:
Many experts in the MS community have expressed concern that:
Read the FDA's advice to consumers about stem cells
- In many countries these stem cell clinics are not held to strict sanitary guidelines and are allowed to operate without oversight over the safety of their procedures.
- The sources of the stem cells they use are not always made clear, or the procedures they use to derive them or ensure they are free from infectious agents.
- Safety of the procedure itself, and its long-term consequences, is a major issue. Areas of concern include the question of whether the cells could cause the severe immune attack known as graft-versus-host disease, or grow uncontrollably once inside the body and cause tumors or other serious problems. Another concern relates to whether follow-up care would be available if complications or other issues arise after a person gets home.
- There is often no plan for how the safety, side effects and effectiveness of this experimental procedure will be measured and monitored over time.