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Combating the threat of stem cell tourism through patient education and government regulation

Authors Gharaibeh B, Anderson J, Deasy BM

Received 8 April 2015

Accepted for publication 13 October 2015

Published 27 January 2016 Volume 2016:3 Pages 15—24


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 5

Editor who approved publication: Professor Rubin Pillay

Burhan Gharaibeh,1,2 Jordan E Anderson,3 Bridget M Deasy1

1CellStock, Pittsburgh, PA, USA; 2Department of Natural Sciences and Engineering Technology, Point Park University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA; 3Department of Veterans Affairs, Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center, Providence, RI, USA

Abstract: Advances in stem cell research and media publicity of stem cell potential have raised the hopes of patients with severe disabilities and conditions which lack a cure. While stem-cell-based therapies are the clinical standard of care for a few hematological conditions, stem cell tourism continues to rise worldwide. This rise is driven in part by patients’ need for alternative treatment for difficult conditions and increased online access to health information. Unfortunately, clinics around the world are exploiting patients’ hopes by offering supposed stem cell therapies, without credible scientific rationale, oversight, or patient protections. Occurring particularly in Asia and South America, treatments which are illegal in most countries are being offered for what are often considered incurable conditions. A survey of health organization websites showed that while 71% of these websites provided information about stem cell treatment/research, only 18% of those sites included a direct warning or caution about stem cell treatments abroad. A number of professional organizations have published guidance documents to shine a light on the dangers of stem cell tourism. Comprehensive government regulations exist in the US, Europe, and several other countries, so that approvals for stem cell treatments occur only after extensive safety testing has occurred. In this review, we discuss issues related to stem cell treatments, including the patients’ needs for educational resources, and we describe the process of regulatory approval for cell therapies using the US system as an example.

Keywords: transnational health care, medical tourism, regenerative medicine, cell therapies, CAM, complementary and alternative medicine

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