Although the potential for using stem cells to treat various disorders is exciting, the science is in its infancy and the therapy is far from a standard response for managing and curing disease, much less using it in more questionable contexts. But that hasn’t stopped some practitioners and patients from “early adapting” this complex science as if it were the latest smartphone app.
In fact, as a story in USA Today described, nobody knows if certain stem cell treatments work, or even if they’re legal.
Stem cells, also known as “master cells,” have the potential to develop into any cell found in the human body, and the potential to create an entire organism. That kind of power has attracted the attention of professional athletes desperate to prolong careers threatened by age or injury.
USA Today recounted how, starting at $15,000, some pro athletes were treated with “The Soup” — a mixture of human cells including stem cells derived from their own fat. “If it works the way they hope,” according to the story, “The Soup can help repair injuries that otherwise might require surgery — damaged knees, elbows, hips, necks and more.”
More and more clinics have hopped on stem cell therapy bandwagon, with the sports clientele a driving factor, as well as Baby Boomers looking for alternatives to surgery. But this trend might well be more dangerous than anyone knows because these facilities operate beyond the boundaries of government regulation and established science.
As USA Today observed, “There’s no proof [one athlete’s stem-cell therapy] didn’t work. But there’s no proof it did work, either. To really know if such treatments work by U.S. standards, it would need to be treated like a new drug candidate. In the USA, a new drug doesn’t receive approval from the FDA for widespread use until after long and expensive clinical trials to determine its safety and efficacy.
“The reason these clinics aren’t required to go this route is because they say these cells aren’t drugs but rather cells that come from a patient’s body. They say such treatments are essentially surgeries performed in a medical office, which isn’t subject to FDA regulations.”
That agency has issued draft guidelines for the practices of these clinics that voiced concerns about safety.