Health regulators in the United States are talked about as the best in the world, but a new study on the spread of stem cellclinics shows what can happen when regulations fall behind.
Out of nowhere, over the past two to three years, the clinics have sprung up — 570 in the United States, according to a recent paper — offering untested stem cell treatments for just about every medical use imaginable.
In theory, stem cells might be a useful treatment for certain diseases that involve the loss of cells, like Type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's or osteoarthritis. They are primitive cells that can develop into a range of mature cells and perhaps serve as replacements. But progress is slow. After a flurry of stem cell excitement two decades ago, almost all the research today is still in mice or petri dishes. The very few clinical trials that have begun are still in the earliest phase.
The problem is that stem cell therapies are still mostly theory. So what is going on? How can there be clinics, even chains of clinics run by companies, offering stem cell treatment for almost any disease you can think of — sports injuries, arthritis, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, muscular dystrophy, A.L.S., cancer?