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'Scienceploitation': Prof calls for crackdown on unproven stem cell therapies

University of Alberta health-law professor Timothy Caulfield joins global call for tighter regulations.

A University of Alberta professor's research has found many clinics offering  unproven stem cell therapies are charging tens of thousands of dollars per treatment.

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A University of Alberta professor's research has found many clinics offering unproven stem cell therapies are charging tens of thousands of dollars per treatment.

An Edmonton professor is calling for tighter regulation of stem cell therapies, as clinics peddling expensive, unproven and dangerous treatments crop up in Edmonton and across North America.

"This is a big problem,” said University of Alberta health-law professor Timothy Caulfield. “We’re not talking about a handful of clinics, we’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of clinics all over the world, including in North America.”

His research has found many clinics offering the unproven therapies are charging tens of thousands of dollars per treatment, and are not advertising them as experimental.

Clinics are professing to cure conditions like Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, cancer and autism.

“They represent them as if they are effective, as if they are relatively routine, and as if they are relatively risk free. And that’s just not the case in the vast majority of situations,” Caulfield said.

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He said some advertised stem cell therapies have led to serious health problems and deaths.

Caulfield and 14 colleagues from around the world call for global regulations in a new paper in Science Translational Medicine.

Unproven stem cell therapies used to only be available through “stem cell tourism” for North Americans who were willing to travel abroad. But recently, they’ve been popping up across North America.

Caulfield said there is one such clinic in Edmonton but did not give its name.

In many jurisdictions, he said, the clinics operate under a “legal loophole.”

If the treatments are considered medical practices under the domain of professional standards, rather than drugs regulated by organizations like Health Canada or the FDA, they are harder to regulate.

“I call it scienceploitation. The idea is that these clinics are using the language of stem cells, an exciting and legitimate field of science, in order to sell products,” Caulfield said.

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