Myth #1 – Stem cell therapies are tried and tested
The only well-defined and extensively used stem cell treatment is in the hematopoietic (blood) system; for example, bone marrow transplantation, in which healthy bone marrow stem cells replace destroyed and damaged bone marrow (the soft fatty tissue inside bones that produces blood cells). Stem cells are also regarded as a safe and effective treatment for some skin, bone, and eye grafting and implantation. All other applications of stem cell therapy are currently experimental and unproven by clinical trials.
Myth #2 – There’s nothing to lose by trying unproven treatments
The benefits of some stem cell therapies are questionable, but their risks are very real. This is especially true for diseases and conditions for which there is no existing treatment. Experimental treatments can result in health problems in both the short and long terms and can cause complications that make the condition more difficult to manage.
Myth #3 – All stem cells are the same
Different stem cells from different parts of the body function differently and are tissue-specific. Therefore, neural stem cells give rise to brain cells and bone marrow stem cells give rise to blood cells.
Myth #4 – The same stem cells can work for different diseases
Stem cells can be manipulated in the laboratory; however, it is unlikely that a stem cell originating from a part of the body that is unrelated to a disease or condition can be a useful treatment. Induced pluripotent stem cells or embryonic stem cells can potentially generate all the different cell types found in the human body, but they also have the potential to grow into tumors if they are not carefully manipulated.
Myth #5 – The cause of the disease is not important
Using blood cell-forming stem cells to treat diabetes does not make sense. It is important to understand the science behind the disease before using carefully manipulated stem cells to address the underlying problem.
Myth #6 – Cells from a person’s own body are automatically safe
When cells are removed from the body, grown in the laboratory, and reintroduced, there is a risk of contamination. Manipulation in the laboratory can result in uncontrolled cell growth, and re-introduction of cells into places where they do not belong can result in complications.
Myth #7 – Patient testimonials are reliable
Overly persuasive marketing from clinics selling stem cell treatments directly to patients (without a referral from a physician) should raise a red flag. Objectively assessing the effectiveness of any treatment outside the setting of a carefully controlled clinical trial is next to impossible.
Myth #8 – Commercial clinics selling experimental treatments are as good as clinical trials
Clinical trials are based on preclinical data and evidence-based research. They are subject to evaluation by an independent ethics committee and must conform to strict guidelines and regulations. During a clinical trial, the effectiveness of a treatment is usually compared to a control group of patients who do not receive the treatment. The study participant does not bear any cost during a clinical trial.
Myth #9 – Science easily becomes medicine
The process of science becoming an accepted practice in medicine is long and complex and involves multiple steps designed to minimize harm and maximize the effectiveness of the therapy. Testing is first done on animal models and then replicated in humans. The work of one group of scientists is often tested independently by a peer group.
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