Three patients in the United States have lost most of their ability to see after undergoing unregulated stem cell treatments.
Stem cell surgery is often the last bastion of hope for people hoping for a restoration of sight. However, the treatments are risky when conducted at unsupervised clinics, such as a private one in Florida where the three women were treated.
According to reports in the New England Journal of Medicine, stem cells were sourced from the body fat of the three patients and injected into the eyes. However, the treatment failed and the women lost most of their site. The clinic offered compensation to two of the patients but there have been no other penalties.
Professor Pete Coffey of University College London explains who clinical trials are run differently in the United Kingdom. For one, it is considered unethical for patients to pay for such procedures. Secondly, injecting both eyes at the same time is not good clinical practice as it involves testing an unproven therapy and subjecting the patient to unnecessary danger. Regulations in the UK are tighter with regards to private entrepreneurs offering stem cell surgery.
The website of the International Society for Stem Cell Research offers advice on how to be careful when seeking stem cell treatment. Unfortunately, many people believe stem cell therapy offers a miracle cure for a number of devastating diseases.
All is not bad news, though. Early trials on age-related macular degeneration and regenerative medicine are promising. The idea is to find a treatment that slows the progression of the disease and preserves central vision in a safe manner. In the meantime, more needs to be done to protect vulnerable individuals desperate for a cure.