In 2017, three women went blind after paying a so-called ‘stem cell clinic’ in Florida thousands of dollars to treat their macular degeneration. Why are these stem cell therapies dangerous, and why aren’t real, safe, and effective therapies on the market yet? Stem cell therapies have had disastrous results across the US, which recently made the FDA say:“unproven and unsafe products” purport to address a serious disease, but instead could “put patients at significant risk.”
Some of the groundbreaking stem cell treatments are showing promise. But, the early flagship trial that hoped to improve macular degeneration — a disease leading to eventual blindness — was halted after just one patient received treatment, due to concerns if they posed any threat to the long-term health of those participating in the trials. That is how cautious real clinical trials are — they try to minimize any risk before they bring treatments to patients.
This early trial was suspended in 2014, and there’s still only one stem cell therapy officially approved by the FDA — bone marrow transplants to treat those with blood cancer. Because bone marrow is where our stem cells live when we’re adults. There are a more FDA-vetted clinical trials in the pipeline, but those are not fully-fledged treatments yet — they’re just tests to see how it works, if it’s effective, and what the side effects are so that researchers can go on to make a product or a procedure that actually works.
The flood of ‘stem cell clinics’ that have been popping up all over the world, promising to cure everything from blindness, to joint damage, to neurodegenerative disease, all share one telltale sign — they charge patients for treatment. Vulnerable people seeking cures to health ailments are paying companies large sums of money to receive a treatment that’s not even at clinical trial stage. In the FDA’s words, these are treatments with a worrisome lack of evidence that they work, at all. And they may actively be harmful.