The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Monday that it would take severe measures after it found that clinics around the country are selling unapproved and potentially dangerous stem cell treatments to patients with cancer and other hard diseases, according to a warning letter posted by the agency.

The crackdown was announced due to hundreds of clinics around the country selling unapproved stem cell therapies, but two of them were specifically pointed: the U.S. Stem Cell Clinic of Sunrise, Florida; and California Stem Cell Treatment Centers in Rancho Mirage and Beverly Hills. In the last one, certain doctors carried out a surgery where they injected a smallpox vaccine intravenously and directly to the patients’ tumors.

Image credit: Shutterstock / The Conversation
Image credit: Shutterstock / The Conversation

“Many of these patients have suffered great harm, and even death as a result of using unproven stem cell therapies,” the President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, Hans Clevers, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that increased regulatory enforcement against clinics offering unproven treatments will deter this practice and help protect patients.”

Unapproved treatments might put at risk the lives of the patients

On Monday, the FDA posted on its web page a warning letter sent last week to U.S. Stem Cell Clinic of Sunrise, Florida. In it, the agency condemned the selling of unapproved stem cells treatments, which doctors injected intravenously and directly into the patients’ spines. Previously, according to a report published by the New England Journal of Medicine, this Florida clinic was already linked with three women who ended up blind after they were subjected to a fat-stem cell treatment for macular degeneration.

However, this is just one of many other clinics around the country that the agency accused to use stem cells vaccines to treat different conditions, such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and lung and heart diseases.

Along with it, on the same Monday, the agency announced that last week it accused StemImmune Inc. of San Diego to purchase five live virus vaccine vials, previously designated to only those patients who were at high risk of smallpox. At the California Stem Cell Treatment Centers in Rancho Mirage and Beverly Hills, the vaccines were later combined with stem cells extracted from patients’ fat and injected directly to patients’ tumors.

“I’ve directed the FDA to launch a new working group to pursue unscrupulous clinics through whatever legally enforceable means are necessary to protect the public health,” The FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb wrote in a statement. “We have examples where some of these unproven treatments have clearly harmed patients.”

FDA offered a list of advices for customers

Doctors might offer unapproved stem cells therapies, and people under high-risk diseases might accept them without having a second thought. This is why the FDA published a series of advice for safe before they choose an unproved and dangerous treatment instead of a secure and adequate therapy.

“If you see a business that’s making all sorts of dramatic marketing claims across disease categories, claiming to use fat as a treatment for all sorts of indications, these are all signs to be wary of,” said Leigh Turner, associate professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota.

According to Turner, it is not easy for patients to either recognize which treatment would be good and beneficial for them, or which one would be totally dangerous.

Source: CNN