Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer

Buyer beware: not all stem cell treatments are created equal


Stem cell research has been a growing area of medical science for years-with real promise of bringing remedies to many of the world's incurable diseases. Scientists are exploring the practice of injecting patients with placental and umbilical cord blood-which is uniquely rich in stem cells. The treatment has life-saving potential for patients suffering from blood disorders, blood cancers and immune disorders-among other ailments.

In recent years, however, a different type of treatment has cropped up across the nation-which goes by a similar name but has potentially devastating consequences. Practitioners of this treatment, involving taking adult stem cells from one area of a patient's body and injecting them into another, problem area, admit that no applications, or potential applications, using these autologous stem cells are approved by the FDA, or are even effective. The theory behind the practice is that the injection of healthy cells will work to regenerate the unhealthy ones. This form of treatment has scientists and federal agencies legitimately concerned.

The results of such treatments range from unimpactful to disastrous. In one clinic in Florida, three patients were given such treatment for macular degeneration. In all three cases, the patients' retinas completely detached from their eyes, and they suffered permanent blindness. They are suing the clinic for negligence.

The FDA recently cracked down on another clinic in California, where the doctor was injecting cancer patients with a combination of adult stem cells and live viruses.

In addition to the immediate devastation such treatment can cause, it also creates obstacles for legitimate use of such treatments down the road. Scientists who have spent decades dedicated to stem cell research are concerned that this careless use of adult stem cells will tarnish the reputation of placental and umbilical stem cell treatment-an area of medicine which could have the power to cure the incurable.

How to avoid dangerous treatment

Most stem cell treatments have not been approved by the FDA, although placental and umbilical stem cell treatments have been approved to treat leukemia and certain blood diseases. Such treatments are available through licensed healthcare providers and are often covered by insurance.

Adult stem cell treatments, on the other hand, are only available through independent stem cell clinics. Such clinics are often run by plastic surgeons, and they also tend to offer liposuction and other beauty services, such as Botox or laser hair removal. In addition, the costly treatment-often upwards of $10,000-is not covered by insurance. Instead, it is marketed as "patient-funded research."

If you are someone you love has suffered as a result of adult stem cell treatments, it is worth consulting with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your rights.

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