Stem Cell Treatments: False Hope Warning Signs

Unproven, Risky Treatments Mislead Patients to Seek Cutting-Edge Therapy

There's a dark side to stem cells: bogus treatments that prey on patients' hopes when mainstream medicine has little to offer.

Stephen Byer stepped far outside typical medical care when his son, Ben, had ALS. He took Ben to China for stem cell-like treatments, and later helped hundreds of people do the same, believing it would help them.

The unproven procedure could have killed Ben. It didn't -- but it also didn't work. Ben later died of ALS. So did the ALS patients Byer now regrets helping get the treatment.

Why take the chance? For Byer, it started with misleading promises online.

"The Internet, while increasing communication, has spawned a horde of charlatans and creeps," Byer says. "We were suckered into one of the earlier forms of stem cell chicanery."

But not everyone who seeks unapproved stem cell treatments feels ripped off. Even though the stem cell treatments Dawn Gusty got in Tijuana, Mexico, didn't ease her multiple sclerosis, she doesn't look back with regret.

That moment -- when hope surpasses science, and when someone claims to be able to bridge that gap -- may be one of the riskiest for patients to handle. And it's one of the most alarming for stem cell experts.

"It is a very dangerous situation," says Joshua Hare, MD, director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami.

Make no mistake: Hare is all for scientific stem cell research. His concern, he says, is "hype" that glosses over an inconvenient fact: There are no new approved stem cell therapies.

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Stem Cell Treatments: False Hope Warning Signs

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