I watched my father physically disintegrate from Parkinson's disease. It was profoundly sad to see this once vibrant man diminish to a helpless infant-like state. So it is easy for me to understand why many people with chronic illnesses would be susceptible to fraudulent treatment programs that sell fast results and quick recovery. Snake oil salesmen have always been around. And, now, in this third millennium, they are offering unproven stem cell treatments to the needy and unsuspecting.
It's not known how many people seek treatment at the many fraudulent stem cell clinics that proliferate around the world. But Irving Weissman, MD, director of Stanford's Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology, believes that hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions) are being spent on unproven and potentially dangerous clinical treatments.
Weissman is former president of the International Society of Stem Cell Research, which recently launched a website to help patients, families and doctors understand more about stem cell treatments and identify clinics using unproven ones.
During this 1:2:1 podcast, Weissman talks about the range of "treatments" being offered at these clinics and tells me, "The websites that advertise stem cell therapies go way beyond what is proven scientifically." He also separates the shady unproven treatments from legitimate therapies. Weissman says that anyone seeking treatment should ask whether the therapy has gone through an institutional review board and what formal government organization has approved the therapy for use in human beings.
Undoubtedly, yet sadly, these clinics will continue to flourish as stem cell science gains success in the lab. Clearly it's buyer beware if a patient is seeking miracle stem cell treatments. It can be a very cruel world out there.