Consumer health alert: many stem-cell therapy claims are unproven

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Doctors and scientists have made some impressive strides in using stem cells to treat some very complicated diseases, but many unproven therapies are being touted as a cure-all for a wide range of illnesses, and often rely on consumers’ hopes.

Stem cell therapy has been shown to help treat a handful of blood disorders—like leukemia, some forms of anemia, and sometimes to help burn victims.

But Consumer Reports warns a cottage industry has emerged promoting unproven stem cell treatments, which are most often not covered by insurance - everything from sexual dysfunction to arthritis, to diabetes and even COPD.

"It’s so easy for consumers looking for a cure to be seduced by unproven claims, but they need to know there’s no magic bullet," said Consumer Reports Health Editor Ellen Kunes.

UW Medicine stem-cell researcher Dr. Charles Murry calls many of the advertised stem-cell therapy claims "entirely implausible," He says the clinics are popping up around the state.

"The proven stem-cell therapies at the moment are in blood regeneration," said Dr. Murry. "So, stem-cells in the form of transplantation- bone marrow transplantation, cord blood transplantation, or blood stem-cells that we harvest from the peripheral circulation. All those have been well-documented to be able to regenerate patients' blood forming abilities. Everything else is experimental."

The FDA is taking steps to strengthen its oversight, but many experts are concerned that federal efforts are moving too slowly to protect consumers from paying thousands of dollars, for treatments that are unproven, may not work and in some cases, according to UW Medicine, have unsafe results.

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