UC Davis stem cell researcher warns consumers to beware of unproven or dangerous stem cell treatments

In his day job, UC Davis scientist Paul Knoepfler probes the inner workings of stem cells and cancer cells and what makes them behave the way they do.

On the side, the father of three daughters blogs about costly, unproven stem cell treatments and provides guidance for those seeking experimental therapies.

Knoepfler is a rare stem cell researcher who regularly explores the most problematic aspects of stem cell therapies on the Internet in full public gaze. He considers himself an advocate for patients as well as a scientist, having survived an aggressive form of prostate cancer at the age of 42.

Now 46, Knoepfler began his blog in 2010, shortly after his cancer was diagnosed. His blogging has encountered resistance from some colleagues, who are uncomfortable with such public endeavors. But he has polished and expanded the blog to the point that it has received international recognition. He will receive an award in December at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego for his advocacy efforts.

This month he moved beyond cyberspace and published Stem Cells: An Insiders Guide (World Scientific Publishing). The book covers stem cells from A to Z and is aimed at the general reader, especially people considering stem cell therapy for themselves, a family member or friend.

The book comes during what has been described by Christopher Scott, a senior research scholar at Stanford University, as an epidemic of transplant clinics offering so-called cures and therapies both here and abroad. The international stem cell medical tourism business, widely promoted on the Internet, is taking in roughly $1 billion annually, according to an estimate in Stanford Medicine, a publication of the Stanford medical school.

Knoepfler is a believer in the potential and power of stem cells. But he says that some of the dubious stem cell treatments now being offered have resulted in deaths and injuries. Other unpleasant issues arise as well in stem cell research, including the tendency of some stem cells to generate cancer cells, and Knoepfler wants to talk about them.

Too often in the academic section of the stem cell field, people pussyfoot around the most important issues or do not even dare talk about them at all, says Knoepfler.

He is not on some crusade to dissuade people from getting risky stem cell procedures, but says safety and training need to be encouraged. Reckless behavior endangers the entire field, he says.

There is no better illustration of the risks of unlicensed stem cell treatments administered by untrained doctors than the recently reported case of a woman who received a stem cell facelift, only to have bone grow in her eye, he said, referring to a Scientific American report involving a Beverly Hills clinic.

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UC Davis stem cell researcher warns consumers to beware of unproven or dangerous stem cell treatments

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