February 22, 2024


Researchers at prestigious medical schools in the US are telling some of their patients to go overseas for stem cell therapies which are regarded as quackery by some of their colleagues. In a feature in Nature Biotechnology, Monya Baker says that some American doctors who believe in the therapeutic potential of foetal stem cell transplants are forbidden to conduct trials in the US by the Food and Drug Administration. So they have clinics abroad or they collaborate in the work of stem cell clinics whose credentials are far from stellar.

Amit Patel, of the University of Pittsburgh, for instance, is head of the Cardiac Cell Therapy Center, but he does his cutting edge work in Thailand, injecting stem cells from a patient’s own bone marrow into their hearts. Stephen Hinderer, of Detroit Medical Center, works with Carlos Lima, a neurologist in Lisbon who has had good results in helping spinal cord trauma victims with nasal cells.

The American doctors want to accumulate enough safety data to persuade the FDA to allow a rigorous clinical trial of foetal stem cells in the US. “Whether you agree with it or not, it’s happening,” says Dr Hinderer. “To not learn from that doesn’t make sense.”

Clinics in Bangkok, Beijing, Kiev, Lisbon, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Moscow offer therapies with stem cells derived from the patient himself or aborted foetuses. Some of them appear to be run by quacks, others by serious physicians. But none of them publish much in scientific journals, despite claims that their work is backed up by decades of research.