Health minister 'perplexed' by Stamina order

Court in Catania tells Brescia hospital to perform treatment

(ANSA) - Brescia, June 24 - Italian Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said she was "perplexed" Tuesday after a court in Catania ordered hospital authorities in Brescia to administer the controversial Stamina stem-cell treatment. The Catania order followed earlier orders from courts in Pesaro and Venice for the Brescia hospital to administer the treatment, which has been largely discredited and according to some investigations, actually harmful. Lorenzin said that such court orders undermine Italy's image internationally. "I am perplexed by what is happening, it is bizarre and undermines the image of Italy," as a nation that follows science-based treatments. She said strong action from government and parliament will be needed "for the protection of patients and their families". The Brescia Civic Hospital said Tuesday that it had started to search for doctors and nurses willing to administer the treatment as ordered by the Catania court. Stamina's credibility has long been suspect, and last fall the health ministry ruled that the Stamina Foundation would no longer be allowed to test the treatment on humans. The foundation was also stripped of its non-profit status after a study found its treatment was "ignorant of stem-cell biology". Recent investigations have shown risks of the treatment range from nausea to cancer, and as many as one-quarter of all patients treated have experienced "adverse effects". The head of the foundation, Davide Vannoni, may face indictment. In April, after study results became known, hospitals in Italy announced they had suspended the stem-cell treatment program. Lorenzin said investigators are raising serious allegations against Stamina and members of the Stamina foundation, and courts should think carefully before overriding that and ordering the treatment. But support from some patients who have used or requested the treatment remains strong. In early June, a court in the central Marche region ruled that toddler Federico Mezzina could receive Stamina treatment for Krabbe disease. The Stamina treatment involves extracting bone-marrow stem cells from a patient, turning them into neurons by exposing them to retinoic acid for two hours, and injecting them back into the patient. Supporters of the therapy thought it could be a cure for fatal degenerative nerve diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy, while detractors said it was devoid of scientific merit. A panel of experts appointed by Italy's health ministry said in January it found the therapy seriously lacking in both premise and practice. Their report cited "serious imperfections and omissions in the Stamina protocol, including conceptual errors and an apparent ignorance of stem-cell biology".

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Health minister 'perplexed' by Stamina order

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