After discovering hundreds of clinics around the world offering untested ‘therapies’ for a multitude of disorders ranging from hair loss to Parkinson’s disease, scientists are advocating for stricter control of stem cell treatments.
The joint research conducted by the University of Reading and the Universiti Sains Malaysia has uncovered 114 companies distributingstem-cell based products that have no proof of being safe and effective. This has raised alarm bells within the medical community and the researchers are urging regulators to immediately stop these products until their safety is validated.
Dr Darius Widera, an Associate Professor at the University of Reading and the principal author of the investigation declared: “Organizations that provide unverified and unconfirmed medical guarantees are nothing more than modern-day snake-oil dealers. The great majority of stem cell treatments available are not yet, and may never be, corroborated with research indicating therapeutic value.
“This may put potentially vulnerable and sometimes desperate people at risk of losing large amounts of cash for treatments that don’t work or are even dangerous. Regulators must act now to protect people.”
Rather than utilizing stem cells in their entirety, clinics are increasingly incorporating secretomes, extracellular vesicles, and exosomes, which are products of those cells, into their stem-cell therapeutics.
Despite some evidence that these products may have a similar potential to adult stem cells to support regenerative medicine, very few clinical trials of these products have been completed, and the products are poorly regulated and currently only being offered by private clinics, with no state health providers yet having approved their use. According to the ClinicalTrials.gov database, 433 clinical trials have been registered thus far.
Of the researchers’ findings, 63 companies offered interventions of secretomes from stem cells sourced from various origins that were unrelated to the customer, while 30 provided treatments using secretomes from their own cells and 21 did not say what kind of cells their treatments were derived from.
Of those companies that disclosed the source of the cells, the most common was found to be blood, followed by amniotic fluid, fat tissue, bone marrow, and umbilical cord. The study did not clarify which specific tissue the cells were derived from in most cases.
The most common treatments for which medical clinics claimed to have a remedy were skin care, anti-ageing, and hair loss. However, there were also significant claims that autism, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and Lyme disease could be treated. Some clinics did not specify which chronic diseases they purported to be able to cure, while a select few discussed successfully treating neuropathies, uncommon immune system diseases, Covid-19, and Alzheimer’s.
Dr Widera stated, “At best, consumers are gambling their money, on treatments for which there is no reliable evidence. At worst, these treatments could be harmful.” “Any medical procedure carries a risk. People can develop allergic reactions and infections, and there are sometimes very serious side effects from introducing an unproven product to your body.”
Dr Graeme Cottrell, who specializes in the field of study at the University of Reading, expressed concern over the immense opportunistic potential. People who suffer from chronic or degenerative health conditions, as well as their loved ones, are desperate to obtain any kind of reprieve from their symptoms, despite the inadequate availability of treatments and therapies they can rely on. As a result, they are likely to try out every option that may give them hope of relief.
“As scientists, we can offer our evidence-based opinion on the treatments being offered, but we don’t have the power that regulators do. It is vital that regulators in all the affected countries catch up swiftly.”