By: Kathleen C. Laird
Stem cell tourism has relocated; patients in search of stem cell therapies to treat nearly any disease can find clinics selling miracle cures without traveling beyond their national borders. Businesses marketing unproven autologous stem cell therapies are now plentiful in highly regulated, wealthy countries, including the United States, Japan, and Australia. Despite regulatory oversight of stem cell therapies and strong support for scientific innovation in these countries, the internet and social media have facilitated the rapid growth and success of a new industry selling unproven treatments directly to consumers. Clinics selling unproven autologous stem cell therapies have succeeded by developing persuasive strategies to appear legitimate and by promoting the perception that therapies using “your own cells” are inherently safer and give patients more ownership and control over their treatment. Despite recent reforms in these countries, national political tensions have rendered these reforms porous, creating new loopholes that commercial clinics can exploit. As such, the World Health Organization needs to implement an international solution that holds member states accountable to meaningfully protect patients and to ensure that stem cells can deliver on their therapeutic potential.