A Foray into Science: The Reality of Current Stem Cell Treatments

Part of my role with Silene Biotech is to oversee all communications regarding our company, cell preservation service, and the current state of the stem cell field. I update the Silene community on all major developments in the stem cell field, both bad and good. Below, I’ll discuss two cases that reflect both the unfortunate and promising sides of current stem cell therapies.   

First, we begin with the fact that there are no proven stem cell therapies to date. There are promising clinical trials addressing a variety of ailments and diseases that are going through the rigorous scientific process. Today, clinics that promise cures provide procedures that involve reintroducing stem cells derived from fat or bone marrow. The effects of these procedures vary and are unpredictable. Some people, including professional athletes, may swear by them but they remain unproven.

These clinics are also unregulated and promise unsubstantiated claims. The latest unfortunate case took place at a for-profit clinic in Florida. Three elderly women became blinded due to receiving an unproven stem cell treatment. These women, in their 70s and 80s, received cells that were injected into their eyes. The cells, derived from fat tissue, were advertised to combat their macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness among the elderly. One woman became completely blind while the other two were effectively blind.

The other story I’d like to share is of a successful regulated clinical trial. In 2014 in Japan, a woman in her 70’s successfully halted her age induced macular degeneration after receiving a retinal transplant. This was part of a clinical trial that took the patient’s skin cells and turned them into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. The iPS cells were then reprogrammed into retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, the cells destroyed by macular degeneration. This procedure was the first involving the use of iPS cells to treat a patient’s condition.

After the procedure, the scientists from the Riken Institute monitored and analyzed the patient to ensure the procedure was successful. After two years of monitoring, they shared the positive results and that no negative effects occurred. The Riken institute is continuing their research and moving on with other clinical trials.

I share these stories because it is important to differentiate unregulated stem cell clinics from legitimate clinical trials. There’s a lot of false information and promises in the consumer stem cell industry today. And rather than turn a blind eye to these cases, it’s important to learn from these cases. There are promising trials, with new groundbreaking results every day. We monitor these trials to share any developments with you. As we continue to grow and expand our services beyond cell preservation, we look to partner with organizations that match our high standards of practice. The future of medicine is personalized treatment and we will help you utilize that future.