Beware the Corner Clinics That Peddle Stem Cells Stem-Cell Therapies Hold Enormous Promise, but Most Are in Early Stages of Development. Don't Just Buy Them off the Street, Warn University of Pittsburgh Regenerative Medicine Speciallists J. Peter Rubin and William R. Wagner

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 10, 2019 | Go to article overview

Beware the Corner Clinics That Peddle Stem Cells Stem-Cell Therapies Hold Enormous Promise, but Most Are in Early Stages of Development. Don't Just Buy Them off the Street, Warn University of Pittsburgh Regenerative Medicine Speciallists J. Peter Rubin and William R. Wagner


Heart disease? Multiple sclerosis? Arthritis? How about chronic lung disease or even hair loss? Stem cells can cure all of these conditions!

At least that's what the advertisements, prominently displayed on billboards and colorful websites, claim. This leaves one wondering if the entire stem-cell-therapy field is real or just modern-day snake oil.

Stem cells are found in embryos and give rise to all the tissues in the body. Stem cells can also be derived from a patient's own tissue, such as bone marrow or fat.

There are two major features of stem cells that make them attractive for the treatment of diseased or injured tissues. First, stem cells have the ability to release growth factors, or chemical signals, that assist in biologic healing processes. Second, stem cells can transform into any new tissue type to potentially rebuild a failing organ such as the liver.

While stem-cell technology has been used experimentally to heal muscle injuries or speed recovery from stroke and heart attack, the science is still relatively new and evolving. Most therapies are at a very early stage.

So why, then, do we see such visible marketing offering stem-cell therapies and what do we know about the therapies being advertised?

Most of the advertisements you see are posted by increasingly prevalent for-profit private clinics. There are about a dozen in the Pittsburgh region, advertising stem cells as a cure for a broad variety of disorders, typically outside of the provider's scope of expertise. For example, a physician without specific expertise in neurologic disorders offers stem-cell therapy for multiple sclerosis.

These cell-based therapies are so plentiful because they're relatively simple to administer. Many can be performed in an office setting with minimal anesthesia during a single visit, but they have not been thoroughly assessed for risks, and there is documented evidence of possible side effects without evidence of successful therapeutic outcomes.

So why isn't the Food and Drug Administration shutting these clinics down?

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, signed in December 2016, the FDA opened accelerated pathways to bring cell-based therapies safely to the clinic, and the agency last month finalized its guidance documents to expedite the process. But the legislation did not provide for stricter control of clinics functioning outside FDA guidelines. The smaller ones just fly under the radar. …

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Beware the Corner Clinics That Peddle Stem Cells Stem-Cell Therapies Hold Enormous Promise, but Most Are in Early Stages of Development. Don't Just Buy Them off the Street, Warn University of Pittsburgh Regenerative Medicine Speciallists J. Peter Rubin and William R. Wagner
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