Bioethics News

Stem cell clinics are the ‘Wild West’ of medicine, say critics

Regulators in the United States and Australia are examining the burgeoning field of stem cell therapies. Using patients’ own stem cells extracted from fatty deposits in their bodies, doctors are treating dozens of conditions ranging from sports injuries to multiple sclerosis to dementia to hair loss.

However, the doctors don’t know how the stem cells work and there often is no evidence that they do work, other than optimistic anecdotes. According to a report by AP, more than 190 clinics in the United States are offering stem cell therapies. “It’s sort of this 21st century cutting-edge technology. But the way it’s being implemented at these clinics and how it’s regulated is more like the 19th century. It’s a Wild West,” says Dr. Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California at Davis.

Many of the clinics are franchises organized by large for-profit companies which provide equipment and some training seminars. The largest, says AP, is the Cell Surgical Network, co-founded in 2012 by, who a former Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, Dr Mark Berman. The company’s website lists at least 28 conditions which can be treated with injections of a “fat-based soup”. “I don’t even know what’s in the soup,” Berman told AP. “Most of the time, if stem cells are in the soup, then the patient’s got a good chance of getting better.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has been unable to regulate the stem cell market because the stem cells come from the patient and are not new drugs and only a minor surgical procedure is needed.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.