You can stop taking a pill or an injection treatment, however, you can’ t stop or retract stem cell remedies if there’ s a bad side effect.
In contrast to other kinds of medicines, once stem cells have been transplanted directly into patients, if something goes wrong you cannot stop the ‘ treatment’. There’ s no retraction possible because transplanted stem cells spread in the body and potentially integrate.
One of the striking things in the commercial stem cell field in 2016 was the emergence of patient lawsuits towards stem cell clinics including two proposed class activity suits. These patients, and I count potentially now greater than a dozen, allege a variety of harms ranging from tumors to loss of sight. The reason I mention this is that there appears to be huge prospect of harm to patients from unapproved stem cell therapies. I am aware a lot of patients who would wish they could undo what the come cell clinic did. It’ s just not possible.
Even in an appropriately controlled stem cell trial context, there’ s no simple way to undo stem cell transplants. There has been talk for a long time about suicide genes to be inserted into stem tissues to provide “ a net” should something go awry along with stem cell treatments, but it’ s not clear exactly how well these would work and stem cell clinics aren’ t interested in that anyway.
The fact that come cell treatments cannot be retracted to try to help patients who end up in dire straits because of the experimental therapy means there’ s even greater reason why proper oversight is needed. Stem cells are not some universal healing clay with miraculous powers that any doc anywhere can pick up and used in patients with all kinds of health problems.
Doctors should receive extensive training in stem cells (no, a week-end golf course seminar on stem cells doesn’ t count) and in bioethics, and they should be in contact with the FDA before injecting even one patient. Doctors should also maybe not try to treat patients with stem cells when the patients have maladies outside the doctor’ s area of specialty. There’ s nothing magic about stem cells that, for example, suddenly allows a plastic or orthopedic surgeon or dermatologist to ethically and safely treat patients with conditions outside their expertise like neurological or respiratory problems.
Stem cells are not Starbucks coffee or McDonalds hamburgers that can be safely franchised across the country. Patients shouldn’ t be treated like drive-thru customers.
What the recent flurry of stem cell lawsuits also illustrate is that some doctors are putting their practices at grave risk and once you screw up with one or a few patients, again you cannot retract the stem cell treatments. You may have permanently hurt the patients. You’ re also likely going to end up in court or creating a multi-million-dollar settlement that makes your malpractice insurer very unhappy with you. You could end up in the newspaper too rather than in a good way.