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Topic: Stem Cell Tourism
March 31, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

I have written on this blog about the topic of stem cell tourism and the different strategies that have been proposed to stop the phenomenon. Just to provide a background on the topic from a previous blog: stem cell tourism is used to describe an internet-based direct-to-consumer advertised industry where clinics offer untested and unproven stem cell interventions as bonafide therapies to patients with a range of diseases and injuries including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, blindness, cancer, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and many others. Basically there is no scientific evidence of safety of efficacy of these modalities to offer them on a for-profit basis to patients. The term was originally coined as a form of tourism because patients traveled from countries like the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia to clinics in countries with lax regulations, but this simply is not the case anymore. There are several clinics within highly regulated countries like U.S. that offer stem cell interventions.

Of the several strategies people have discussed, one of the first has been on the topic of providing education to patients and the public. Here, people argue that providing education on the dangers of stem cell tourism might actually sway patients to not undertake unproven stem cell interventions. As some scholars have mentioned, education might not be as effective because it depends on a “rationale actor model” where we assume that patients will behave rationally and make choices based on weighing the harms and benefits of seeking unproven treatments. More so, such an argument does not sufficiently consider the hope patients have to ameliorate their disease, reduce pain or other symptoms, and increase their quality of life. While these counterarguments are certain rational and likely to be true, there is yet no solid evidence showing whether education on stem cell tourism is effective at swaying people from traveling for unproven interventions. But even if before we go into whether education might influence a patient’s decision to travel for unproven stem cell treatments, I think we need to assess the role of patient education in medicine.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

January 27, 2014 | Posted By Michael McNichol and Zubin Master, PhD

Since the discovery of human embryonic stem cells in 1998, many promises have been made by individuals and groups about the potential of stem cell research to revolutionize the practice of regenerative medicine. Yet to date, very little has been seen in terms of novel therapies in the clinic. Because of the substantive economic investments made in stem cell research in order to realize the promise they can offer, greater efforts to translate stem cell research into medicines has ensued. However, many factors might impede the clinical translation of stem cell research. In this blog, we briefly highlight the ethical and scientific issues surrounding the successful translation and commercialization of stem cell research.

The process of clinical translation begins with preclinical research using in vitro systems and animal models to show proof-of-principle and demonstrate safety and efficacy of a potential therapeutic. For example, if a stem cell is to be transplanted into a patient to treat a degenerative disease, then the type of stem cell that is being used must show that it can successfully treat a similar disease in animals prior to testing the product in humans. There are many reasons for using appropriate animal models that mimic human diseases: low cost, reproductive cycle, number of offspring, genetic similarity, similarity in the manifestation of the disease in humans, and ease of handling. However, there are many limitations to animal models that do not result in direct translation in humans, meaning what may work in animals may not at the end of the day be effective in people. While we choose animals as models to mimic human disease, the biology of animals is still significantly different than humans and thus may simply not translate 100%. This issue is difficult to get around. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 2, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

I have previously discussed the topic of stem cell tourism in previous AMBI blogs. To provide a brief introduction from another blog, stem cell tourism is used to an internet-based direct-to-consumer advertised industry where clinics offer untested and unproven stem cell interventions as bonafide therapies to patients with a range of diseases and injuries including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, blindness, cancer, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and many others. Basically there is no scientific evidence of safety of efficacy of these modalities to offer them on a for-profit basis to patients. The term was originally coined as a form of tourism because patients traveled from countries like the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia to clinics in countries with lax regulations, but this simply is not the case anymore. There are several clinics within highly regulated countries like U.S. that offer stem cell interventions.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

August 30, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Stem cell tourism is a pejorative term used to describe clinics that offer untested stem cell interventions as bonafide therapies to patients with injuries and diseases. This includes Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, blindness, cancer, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and many others. We used to think about stem cell tourism as potential patients traveling to clinics from countries like the US, UK, Canada and Australia to countries with lax regulations, but this simply is not the case anymore. There are several clinics within the US that offer stem cell interventions to treat back aches or sports injuries. This direct-to-consumer market has more recently attracted celebrity types including several high profile athletes, Hollywood stars, and even a US State Governor.

Clinics generally tend to overemphasize benefits, and use rhetoric terms like “alternative medicine” or “experimental treatment” to explain that it is another form of treatment not offered by conventional medicine. But at the end of the day, there is an almost complete lack of scientific evidence supporting the claims made by clinics in regards to the efficacy of these stem cell interventions. The evidence provided to patients is based only on testimonials by other patients; no other measures are used to determine treatment efficacy. The overemphasis of benefits when patients tell others of how great they feel and how it has helped them and given hope only fuels their frustration and distrust in their domestic healthcare, research and regulatory system. The stem cell clinics play on the hype and power of stem cells and they stand to make money as therapies range from $5,000 to $30,000 and in many cases clinics require patients to have repeated treatments.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 17, 2012 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Stem cell tourism is a pejorative term used to describe clinics that offer under or untested stem cell interventions to patients with debilitating diseases. This includes Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, blindness, cancer, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and many others. We used to think about stem cell tourism as potential patients traveling to clinics from countries like the US, UK, Canada and Australia to countries with lax regulations, but this simply is not the case anymore. There are several clinics within the US that offer under or untested stem cell interventions, some of which are being challenged by the FDA. The stem cell tourism market is an internet-based, direct-to-consumer market. There is a lack of scientific evidence and clinical research supporting the claims made by clinics in regards to the efficacy of these so-called “treatments”. The evidence sold to patients are testimonials by other patients saying how great they feel and how it has helped them and given hope. This is further fueled as some public perception studies indicate that several patients are frustrated and seem to distrust their domestic healthcare, research and regulatory system. So why offer these therapies? Well for starters, stem cell providers could make a ton of money (ranging from $5,000 to $30,000), especially because sometimes patients require repeated treatments. The market has more recently attracted celebrity types including several high profile athletes, Hollywood stars, and even a US State Governor.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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