Unproven stem cell treatments pose risks

UNPROVEN stem cell treatments behind an increase in international 'stem cell tourism' are not just proliferating overseas.

Similar treatments, without any medical evidence of their effectiveness or safety, are emerging in our own backyard, Australian stem cell experts warn.

Professor Megan Munsie and Dr Dominique Martin, from the University of Melbourne, said just because the treatments were offered in Australia and were not illegal did not mean they were safe.

Prof Munsie, a stem cell scientist who heads the education, ethics, law & community awareness unit at Stem Cell Australia at the university, said she had received more than 500 patient inquiries over the past year about experimental stem cell therapies offered in Australia and overseas.

Most of the inquiries about so-called stem cell treatments offered in Australia related to osteoarthritis, but patients were also querying treatments for spinal cord injury, blindness, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and autism, Prof Munsie said.

"It used to be that people with the same conditions would call about overseas treatments, but what I'm seeing now is that more and more people are asking about treatments here," Prof Munsie told AAP.

"Because it's happening here and it's not illegal, people think it must be safe.

"I'm not convinced it is safe, nor effective," she said.

While a handful of clinical trials are underway for a range of stem cell treatments, the only proven medical treatment using stem cells is bone marrow transplants for blood diseases including leukaemia, which have been used for about 40 years.

Treatments offered for osteoarthritis in Australia claim to use stem cells extracted from adipose tissue, or fat, using liposuction, which are then injected back into the patient.

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Unproven stem cell treatments pose risks

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