Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stem Cell Loophole Must Be Closed

By Richard Harvey, Martin Pera and Megan Munsie

Unproven stem cell treatments are being offered in Australia without regulatory oversight.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The use of stem cells to treat currently intractable conditions has the capacity to revolutionise medicine. However, despite more than a decade of intensive research on a number of stem cell systems, the only proven and approved stem cell therapy available for Australian patients is the transplantation of stem cells from bone marrow to treat diseases of the blood and immune system. Other stem cell applications are only just starting to be evaluated in clinical trials.

Despite this there has already been a proliferation of commercial clinics offering unproven stem cell therapies for a wide range of conditions. These treatments are not cheap – often with an asking price around $10,000 per treatment.

Bizarrely, single preparations of “autologous” (patient-derived) stem cells are being injected to treat diseases as diverse as osteoarthritis and autism, injuries including spinal fracture, cosmetic applications and ageing. Such practices rely on a business model that exploits the hope and hype surrounding stem cells, the expectations of desperately ill and frustrated patients seeking the latest therapies, and the trust normally afforded medical professionals.

There is real potential to harm patients because the behaviour of stem cells is unknown and unpredictable in many circumstances, particularly where the cells have been manipulated outside of the body...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.