Nearly 600 U.S. clinics could be selling unregulated stem cell treatments

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The risks of “stem cell tourism” might be overplayed, according to a new paper published June 30 in the journal Cell Stem Cell. But only because the real risks of unregulated stem cells might actually be within the U.S.

Researches searched online to find 351 businesses selling stem cell treatments at 570 clinics throughout the country. But the study authors say the treatments these businesses are touting might not be legit—they raise “ethical, scientific and regulatory concerns.”

The businesses advertised treatments claiming to cure Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy and 30 or more “other conditions for which there is no established scientific consensus that proven safe and efficacious stem cell treatments now exist.”

The questionable treatments touted anti-aging properties, cardiovascular and spinal benefits and athletic quality-improving abilities, none of which have been proven or approved as stem cell treatments.

What’s more, the definition of stem cells used by the businesses seemed to be inconsistent and poorly defined.

They study didn’t call out any specific business in particular for fraudulent business dealings, but only raised questions about the number of these business as a whole. As the authors pointed out, there are few stem cell treatments which have proper FDA approval, so it it’s unlikely that these business are all selling procedures related to those treatments.

“[T]here are clear grounds for concern that some of the companies we found are not compliant with federal regulations,” they wrote.   

That means some consumers (who may already be injured or ill) could be in “physical, emotional or financial” danger of buying ineffective or dangerous treatments without any regulatory protection.

The study authors called on the FDA, the FTC and other state and local bodies to take a stronger stance on stem cell market regulation.

California had the most clinics, at 113, with large clusters in areas such as Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Florida and Texas had the second- and third-most clinics.