Warning over stem cell treatment scams giving false hope of ‘miracle cures’

IRISH patients are being warned of stem cell treatment scams where huge sums of cash are demanded from vulnerable families hoping for miracle cures.

A conference of leading stem cell researchers will today warn that the lack of guidelines for the treatment in Ireland is leading to patients taking huge risks seeking out therapies abroad.

Brock Reeves, brother of the late Superman actor Christopher and director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, will be among speakers at the Trinity College Dublin event this evening. The event is being organised by the Irish Patients’ Association.

Conference organiser and TCD researcher Dr Stephen Sullivan explained: “People involved in stem cell research, including myself, get emails every week from relatives or people doing stem cell therapy asking if it is safe to go to China or Ecuador.

“We are going to teach people the difference between valued and safe therapy and those offering false hopes.”

A number of tips have been offered to patients travelling abroad for stem cell therapy to help them avoid scams. These include avoiding clinics who are:

nDemanding large amounts of money upfront.

nOffering the same cells for unrelated diseases.

nRefusing to say where the cells are from in the body.

nDenying there is any risk in the treatment.

nBased in a country that does not have good regulation of the treatment.

“There’s a huge vacuum with regard to legislation on this issue in Ireland. People are willing to pay huge amounts, but there are some very heinous websites offering therapy,” added Dr Sullivan.

Initial research conducted by the conference organisers show treatment groups fronting loans for stem cell injections, demanding interest of up to 15%.

A number of stem cell therapists also offer ‘miracle cures’ for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, among others.

UCC last year became the first Irish college to allow the use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes in Ireland. But there are no clear national guidelines. The Department of Health is understood to be drawing up legislation.

Irish Patients’ Association chief Stephen McMahon said up to 40 different patients’ groups would be at the TCD conference.

The conference comes as a Louth couple, who are thought to have thoroughly researched their clinic, yesterday flew out with their daughter to China to seek stem cell therapy to help her see. Eight-month old Gretta Kieran Cullen is thought to be the first Irish-born child to undergo such treatment.

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