A local man has been crippled by a growth on his spine that developed after he traveled overseas to a so- called stem cell clinic. The growth was not from his own cells. So, not only is the treatment untested, doctors don’t know what to do about the bad outcomes.
Here’s the technical explanation from The New England Journal of Medicine:
Commercial stem-cell clinics have been highly publicized in the lay press and operate worldwide with limited or no regulation. We report the case of a 66-year-old man who underwent intrathecal infusions for the treatment of residual deficits from an ischemic stroke at commercial stem-cell clinics in China, Argentina, and Mexico. He was not taking any immunosuppressive medications. In reports provided to him by the clinics, the infusions were described as consisting of mesenchymal, embryonic, and fetal neural stem cells. Progressive lower back pain, paraplegia, and urinary incontinence subsequently developed. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a lesion of the thoracic spinal cord and thecal sac; a biopsy specimen was obtained
This from the Globe story
Brigham pathologists tested the tissue taken from Gass’s spine and determined it was a tumor-like growth but did not have mutations associated with cancer and therefore could not be treated with chemotherapy. Most of the cells were not Gass’s but from another source.
“It’s hard to know what to call it,’’ Chi said.
Doctors have treated Gass with radiation to shrink the mass, which has helped somewhat, but they are also searching for other solutions.
Doctors have been increasingly warning that stem cell clinics are proliferating around the world with little oversight. They are promoting their methods to patients suffering from strokes, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s, and other conditions for which there are few good options. Professional athletes have helped popularize the clinics by seeking out stem cell therapy for strokes and shoulder and knee injuries.