Desperately seeking stem cell therapy abroad

by Ariana Eunjung Cha ,  Washington Post | 2010-06-06

BEIJING – Disillusioned by U.S. doctors who could not help their daughter with cerebral palsy, Kara Anderson’s parents did something they could not have imagined a few years ago: They took her to China.

Specialists in the Chicago area, where the family lives, said that Kara’s brain injury was permanent and that the 9-year-old would probably end up in a wheelchair because of severe twisting in her leg muscles. But then her parents heard stories about children who had improved after receiving injections of stem cells.

The treatment was not available in the United States. It was commercially available only abroad.

That’s how the Andersons joined the desperate people who are taking leaps of faith in seeking stem cell treatments in places as far away as China, India, Russia and Brazil.

Western scientists worry that patients are being taken in by slick marketing campaigns, wasting time, money and hope on unproven therapies, and perhaps even putting themselves in danger.

“Unregulated therapy in the absence of any evidence that these cells are going to help patients is reckless. The potential to do harm is enormous,” said Arnold Kreigstein, a neurologist who is director of stem cell research at the University of California at San Francisco.

Most of the stem cells used in Chinese clinics are obtained from fetuses from miscarriages.



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