Irish Stem Cell Scandal
An Irish doctor is under investigation for reportedly providing stem cells for treatment of patients with multiple sclerosis. The Irish Examiner
reports that patients of a general practitioner are receiving stem cells from the company Advanced Cell Therapeutics. The stem cells are derived from umbilical cord blood. Stem cell treatment is not licensed in Ireland, and concerns have been expressed both about patients with MS receiving treatment from a general practitioner rather than a neurologist and with the fact of the treatment itself. The investigation is being conducted by the Irish Medicines Board. Patients who contact the MS Society of Ireland are being discouraged from undergoing the treatment.
If true, this is a major ethical lapse on the part of ACT for providing the cells for use in an unlicensed procedure and on the part of the doctor for recommending and/or performing the treatment (his involvement is not yet fully known). I assume that the ACT line would be that they just sell the cells and can’t control what use they are being put to, which is probably true technically but not really if they are advertising the cells for treatment and therapeutic use.
It is certainly possible that stem cells could be used to treat MS and other neurological disorders, but the research is far from conclusive on this. People will certainly try any treatment that seems promising to them, but that doesn’t mean they should. Even if these patients were informed that the research was slim on the efficacy of the treatment, they should not be paying to be the experimental subjects.
Yes, sometimes countries are behind on approving or licensing a treatment that seems effective. (It would be nice in the US if the FDA could approve the heart stem cell treatment patients are receiving in Thailand.) There may be cases when a doctor in good conscience can recommend that a patient receive an experimental or unlicensed treatment because it has been shown to be safe and effective, and is not approved in the given country for reasons unrelated to safety but instead to some larger political issue. But that’s not the situation here.
Northwestern University in Chicago is currently recruiting patients for a clinical trial of hematopoietic stem cells in patients with multiple sclerosis. See study number NCT00273364 at www.clinicaltrials.gov
Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, 60611, United States;
Nela Krosnjar, Protocol Coordinator 312-908-0059 firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.