Scientists warn of 'unproven stem cell treatments'
Last updated at 12:04pm on 29th August 2006
Scientists have warned that some stem cell treatments could kill
A group of leading British scientists warned patients today to be wary of "extravagant" claims made for "unorthodox" stem cell treatments offered abroad.
In a letter to The Times newspaper, the experts praised the UK for establishing itself as a world leader in such research, but said foreign therapies - in particular for multiple sclerosis and cosmetic skin treatment - were "unproven", not subjected to independent review and could be dangerous.
In Britain, the therapy is approved for conditions including skin grafting and bone marrow transplants.
The newspaper said the letter was signed by 14 medical charities and research funders, including Professor Colin Blakemore, chairman of the UK Stem Cell Funders Forum, Lord Patel, chairman of the steering committee for the UK Stem Cell Bank, and Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society.
It said: "In principle, we welcome efforts to translate research findings as quickly as possible into clinical benefits - but only in the context of rigorous scientific scrutiny.
"In the case of these unorthodox 'stem-cell' treatments, the protocols and results have not been published or subject to independent review.
"Although scientists are making great strides in stem-cell science, there is no published evidence to support claims that stem cells can safely repair tissue damage caused by multiple sclerosis.
"Indeed, there is concern that these unproven treatments could be dangerous, potentially exposing patients to the risk of uncontrolled and inappropriate tissue generation."
The signatories warn that two such clinics in the Netherlands are under investigation, adding: "We worry that those who are cutting corners risk discrediting the field as well as betraying patients."
Stem cells are undeveloped cells with the ability to become different kinds of tissue.
Those extracted from early embryos less than 14 days old can potentially be directed to grow into any part of the body, from bones to brains.
Scientists hope they will be used in future to develop new treatments for a host of diseases, including currently incurable conditions such as diabetes and Parkinson's.