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Are Stem Cell Hopes Being Exploited?

Are Stem Cell Hopes Being Exploited?

A few months ago, we ran an interview with Sean Hu of Beike Biotechnology, which is in the People’s Republic of China. Hu has been providing stem cell therapies not yet approved in the US, and people from all over the world have been coming to China in hopes of cures.

In the interview, Hu said:
"As of February 2009, Beike has treated over 5,087 patients with cord blood stem cell injections for diseases like ataxia, autism, ALS, brain trauma, cerebral infarction, cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral palsy, diabetics, Guillain-Barre, encephalatropy, and spinal cord injury – many of these are considered incurable diseases.

"There have been many successful stories of stem cell therapy (SCT). One example is the recovery of a nearly blind sixteen-year-old girl, Macie Morse, who recently got her learner’s permit and started driving. She came to one of our hospitals for treatment in July 2006, with 20/4,000 vision in one eye and only light perception in the other due to optic nerve hypoplasia. After treatment, Macie now has 20/80 vision in one eye and 20/400-plus in the other!"

Just to be clear, in the conversation with author Karolyn Y. Zeng, Hu doesn’t claim a perfect record. He admits the treatments don’t always work and he even admits to "mistakes."

Are Stem Cell Hopes Being Exploited?Now, an article in the Sunday Times (of London), tells of "Hundreds of desperate British patients [who] have spent up to £30,000 on unproven stem cell treatments in China" and even quotes Professor Pete Coffey of the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London, who claims that Beike is guilty of "child abuse" for trying unproven stem cell therapies on babies.

One woman, who "raised about £30,000 to have stem cells from umbilical cord blood injected into the veins of their infant… accept there is no guarantee that the treatment will work but say they felt they had to seize the chance, however slight." Other former patients are quoted in the article as having had a partial recovery of sight from Belke’s treatment.

All of this is a sign of things to come, as undoubtedly, more and more people will be traveling to countries with less stringent regulation for experimental treatments or treatments that are not approved in their home countries. And it will continue to be hit or miss. And the question will always linger: is this the exploitation of the vulnerable or a mutual agreement between those giving and those seeking treatment to take risks when doing nothing isn’t a tolerable option?

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