Well now, instead of $60 a bottle for algae extract, you can drop a grand on a flight to China and another $20000 to be injected with umbilical cord cells - guaranteeing an at least temporary boost of stem cells in the body. (Nevermind that these cells are foreign and will be attacked by the immune system) Of course the same questions remain: Will this kind of treatment have positive, negative or no effect? Dr. Hu, the chairman of the company selling this treatment claims that 70% of the 3000 patients who have had these injections for a variety of conditions have seen an improvement. On the other hand, the NPR article (linked above) points out:
No rigorous, controlled clinical trials were carried out before the treatment was offered to patients. No research has yet been published in established peer-review journals overseas. And no one knows for sure what the possible risks might be.So once again, we have an untested, unproven therapy. Let's look at the possible scenarios:
1) The injections work. People's varying conditions are being improved. Great! Test it. Prove it. Show it's safe. Yes trials are expensive, but why wouldn't you want to do it to silence skeptics, better understand what's going on and potentially improve this kind of treatment. However, the likelihood of this therapy working as advertised is small.
Bruce Dobkin is director of the neurologic rehabilitation and research program at the University of California, Los Angles. In response to questions from NPR, he writes in an e-mail that "it is extreme nonsense to think that cells can be incorporated into the complex nervous system and do so much, when we cannot even get cells in mice and rats to do very much.There's also no evidence that umbilical cord stem cells can become the kind of neurons these doctors are claiming, nor evidence that they'll even get to the desired site to begin with.
2) The injections have negative effects. Regardless of whether these injections are a useful treatment, there's the very real posibility that there could be serious consequences that haven't been discovered (no testing means no awareness of effects good or bad). Immune response. Cancer. Take your pick.
3) The injections have no effect at all. Thanks for your 20 grand! Goodbye.
This kind of treatment may hold some future promise, but once again someone is putting the cart before the horse when it comes to stem cell treatments. Do the research, then treat. And don't ask desperate families to plonk down crazy amounts of money for what is generously described as experimental treatment. Sadly, this makes StemEnhance look good by comparison.
More blog reaction here and here.