Stem Cells: the Good and the Bad

Whenever a new potential therapy is in the process of development- and most especially when it is picked up by the media- many patients, including the most desperate ones, seize the opportunity to demand that new, and essentially unproven, potential treatment.  Without taking sides, this occurs with cancer treatment all the time. Some people will pay almost anything for what they perceive as new and therefore better treatment…and so, by human nature, they will be at the mercy of those who would sell such treatment for monetary reasons only. The U.S. has a history of fantastic con artists and the victims and who keep the con game going strong.

This is not just a case of caveat emptor.  In the wake of recent stem cell developments (including last week’s Nobel Prize) it was good to hear disclaimers from scientists about the present applicability of stem cells to disease.  It is early. There are legitimate trials going on right now, FDA approved, that compare stem cells in such diverse diseases as stroke, heart attack, and vascular disease- and these trials compare the stem cell treatment to a control of salt water.  That means, if you enroll in a trial you have a 50% chance of being treated with salt water and NOT with stem cells.  This is the only way we can presently separate the reality from the hype at the present time. .

I am aware of so called stem cell treatment for joint disease that have been widely advertised . Patients are charged some thousands of dollars for an aspiration of their own bone marrow. Some of the marrow cells, which contain perhaps one stem cell in ten thousand, are then injected into an arthritic joint.  This is a good example of an unapproved “treatment” that produces good cash for the doctor and no provable benefit to the patient. People need to be wary of false claims that are based upon hype and supposition; it does not take much to separate a fool from his money.

Follow the FDA sponsored trials and make good decisions based upon data. Be a scientist. And always be skeptical about new things.