6 Claims about Stem Cell Therapy that Don’t Make Sense

Wednesday, September 02, 2015 Stef dela Cruz 0 Comments

"It worked on my daughter, so it should work for others, too!" That's just one of the many stupid claims about stem cell therapy. What I just said probably sounds harsh - rude, even - but it's also the truth. Hear me out.

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When a scam artist tells you something, you are likely to believe it. Hey, that’s what they do. You don't want to be duped, but you do, anyway, because scam artists feed on your vulnerability and desperation.

stem-cell-treatment3

If you believe in the magic of stem cell therapy on autism, Alzheimer's disease, and just about any illness you can think of, it's time you opened your mind to two things: logic and evidence. Let me qualify that by sharing with you six common but very stupid claims about stem cell therapy.

6 Fake Claims on Stem Cell Therapy, Debunked

Stem cell therapy, unfortunately, is a field abused by con artists - not only in the Philippines, but also in other parts of the world. Although life arms us with tools to help spot the con, sometimes we still get duped.

There are many claims about stem cell treatment that don’t make any sense, but here are six that make it to the top of my list. Listen to the evidence and the logic.

#1 Stem cell therapy claim that doesn’t make sense:

stem cell therapy autism

In philosophy, we can say one thing about the above stupid claim: "Post hoc ergo propter hoc." In other words, the above is an example of false causation. Just because two events occur one after the other does not mean that the former caused the latter.

To make a vivid example, let me rephrase the above claim on stem cell therapy by substituting a few words:

"After my daughter threw out the garbage, she met a handsome man. This is evidence that throwing out the garbage will help you find a handsome man!"

Yes, I know, it doesn't follow.

#2 Stem cell therapy claim that doesn’t make sense:

stem cell therapy

Legalities aside, if you don't see the several red flags in that statement, you are in trouble. (But yes, for the record, only those authorized to administer stem cell therapy are legally allowed to do so.)

There is a very good reason why different countries regulate stem cell therapy. Can you imagine what would happen if the paracetamol in your medicine cabinet, the Rivotril in your bag, or the chemotherapy drugs at the pharmacy can be prescribed by just about anyone who wants to practice alternative medicine?

Health is the one element that spells the difference between life and death. Regulation is our safeguard against people who use this knowledge to make fools out of us.

Lastly, if you don't believe in doctors and you prefer alternative medicine therapists, that's your call. But legit (I can not emphasize that word enough) stem cell therapy is not alternative medicine; it is based on scientific research and dogmas of evidence-based medicine.

Now, I ask you, does it make sense to seek the help of an alternative medicine expert if what you get from him is traditional medicine? Feel free to come to your own conclusions.

#3 Stem cell therapy claim that doesn’t make sense:

stem cell therapy regulation

Being stupid is dangerous. But the last time I checked, there's still no ban for being stupid, either.

Anyway, let's get back to the topic at hand.

In the 1920s, there was an invention that allowed people to find out if the shoes they were buying were of the right size. After wearing the shoes a person wanted to buy, he would place his feet in an apparatus that revealed his feet's skeletal structure with respect to his footwear.

It was all the rage. People were happy because they didn't end up buying shoes which they regretted later (and I can only wish I could say the same for me when I go shoe shopping).

But decades later, the apparatus was banned. It was found to cause cancer.

I am talking about the shoe-fitting fluoroscope. It used a considerable amount of x-ray radiation, which explains why it caused bone cancer.

About 10,000 of these cancer-causing fluoroscopes were used and about fifty years had passed before they were banned in the U.S. Fifty years. That's a long time to sell an apparatus that we now know for sure causes cancer! Because, yes, it may take time before the government realizes that these seemingly useful tools do more harm than good.

Nowadays, when you get a chest x-ray, you don’t get cancer because we use x-ray at much less amounts than before. Lesson learned.

And when you use stem cell therapy for an unapproved indication, it is just like the shoe-fitting fluoroscope story. Stem cell research and treatment are relatively new. It will take time before regulations are made and passed. In the meantime, experts are hard at work to make sure this promising modality is not abused.

#4 Stem cell therapy claim that doesn’t make sense:

no harm in trying

Wrong. Wrong, in so many ways.

But for the sake of brevity, let me focus on the "there's no harm in trying" part. Here is the logical rebuttal: "There is something to lose by trying an unproven treatment."

Actually, those were not my words. They came from – brace yourself - the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). Yes, that’s the very organization invested in the advancement of stem cell research and therapy worldwide. Here is the rest of their warning.

ISSCR statement on stem cell treatment

They published this because they wanted to warn everyone about fake therapists who provide stem cell therapy that is unproven, for indications which are unapproved. LISTEN. Heed their warning.

#5 Stem cell therapy claim that doesn’t make sense:

stem cell treatment experimental

Juan and Maria, hold your carabaos!

First of all, just because something is experimental doesn't mean it's being studied in a scientific trial somewhere. It doesn't mean you are part of some huge, clinical experiment! (Let me put it this way: I tried to cook something and I think the rat that ate it died of it. I’m not really sure; everything is still experimental. Here’s a plate, would you like to try it?)

Secondly, study participants do not pay a huge sum of money if they join a clinical trial. When you pay for the treatment and there is no ongoing trial, then you are simply buying an experimental treatment, one that - since it is experimental - has not even been proven to work.

A medical practitioner who has your interests at heart will ensure that if you do use an experimental drug, you will use it under strict ethical guidelines. That is what happens when you are enrolled in a responsible clinical trial.

#6 Stem cell therapy claim that doesn’t make sense:

stem cell therapy efficacy

The big difference between unapproved stem cell therapy and approved therapies is this: We have an idea of what might happen with a treatment that has been studied extensively before it got a stamp of approval.

We know its side effect profile. We know which diseases it may or may not work for. And we know that there is extensive research, the results of which have been peer-reviewed, published, and acknowledged as legitimate proof.

Stem cell therapy is very promising, but can we use it to treat diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and autism? No, we are not quite there yet. But it is so full of promise that, no surprise here, there are money-hungry people willing to sell this still-not-proven-to-work, still-not-proven-to-be-safe treatment to people who are getting desperate.

Again, this is the difference: evidence. In medicine, evidence is golden. If a licensed doctor offers therapies which are not proven to be either safe or effective, then he is not practicing medicine. He will be no different from a quack who makes a potion out of his own hair and asks you to drink it, just because his neighbor says it works.

Stem cell therapy? Use your head.

Ask yourself, who stands to gain from an unproven therapy being sold to hundreds of desperate people? Ask yourself, why is an international organization - one that wants stem cell research to foster and bloom - warning you against injudicious use of stem cell therapy?

At the end of this article, you know better. You are wiser. You know the answers. 

If you think these claims about stem cell therapy are stupid, share with everyone you care for. Here's to making sure our loved ones don't become victims to stem cell scam artists! Cheers.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She maintains a health column in Health.Care Magazine and a cat welfare column in The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene. Add her to your circles.

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