Is There Any Actual Science Behind Stem Cell Therapy?

In 2017, three women went blind after paying
a so-called ‘stem cell clinic’ in Florida thousands of dollars to treat their macular
degeneration. Wait a second, a year ago Julian was talking
about all the new and exciting advances in this field. Why are these stem cell therapies dangerous,
and why aren’t real, safe, and effective therapies on the market yet? I know right? Things like this keep happening across the
US, which recently made the FDA basically say: Hold up. These“unproven and unsafe products”
purport to address a serious disease, but instead could“put patients at significant
risk.” We’ve talked about stem cells before on
this channel, going over what they are and how they work, as well as some of the groundbreaking
stem cell treatments that are showing promise. But, the early flagship trial that hoped to
improve macular degeneration–a disease leading to eventual blindness–was halted after just
ONE patient received treatment, due to concerns if they posed any threat to the long-term
health of those participating in the trials. That’s how cautious REAL clinical trials
are–they really try to minimize any risk before they bring treatments to patients. That early trial was suspended in 2014, and
there’s still only ONE stem cell therapy officially approved by the FDA — bone marrow
transplants to treat those with blood cancer. Because bone marrow is where our stem cells
live when we’re adults. There are a ton more FDA-vetted clinical trials
in the pipeline, but those are not fully-fledged treatments yet–they’re just tests to see
how it works, if it’s effective, and what the side effects are so that researchers can
go on to make a product or a procedure that actually works. The flood of ‘stem cell clinics’ that
have been popping up all over the world, promising to cure everything from blindness to joint
damage to neurodegenerative disease, all share one telltale sign–they charge patients for
treatment. Vulnerable people seeking cures to health
ailments are paying companies large sums of money to receive a treatment that’s not
even at clinical trial stage. In the FDA’s words, these are treatments
with a worrisome lack of evidence that they work, at all. And they may actively be harmful. See, most legitimate clinical trials of treatments
like this will cover the costs of treatment for the patient through the pharmaceutical
company or a foundation, precisely for the reason that it may not work, it’s not yet
a fully developed treatment. So paying for a ‘clinical trial’ can be
warning flag number one. Profit-oriented companies scamming sick people
out of their money are taking advantage of consumer confusion around this topic. Stem cell science is in the news a lot because
scientists are making incremental progress–but this is happening in the lab, demonstrating
how stem cells MAY be used in the FUTURE to treat patients . It’s a highly reported on topic because
it’s an exciting one that could change the future of medicine. But science takes a long time. So let’s get it straight: Embryonic stem
cells are heavily regulated and hard to access, but nothing is stopping faux treatment facilities
from taking cells from a patient’s body and turning them into stem cells–these are
called induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPSCs. The Florida ‘clinic’ that blinded three
women extracted the patients’ belly fat, went through the process to turn that into
stem cells, and then injected it into their eyes. The problem is IPSCs from fully-formed, adult
tissue…can only turn into that tissue . Fat stem cells can only turn into fat, so injecting
them into an eye?! IPSCs still do hold huge promise for repairing
patients’ damaged tissue, and researchers are always looking for ways to extract and
multiply the stem cells we have as adults that CAN turn into anything, because that
would allow us to repair any damage on the body –it’s just that there’s no legitimate
treatment out there yet. Scientific research like this is exciting
and there’s a ton of it out there, and science nerds like us are talking about it a lot because
it’s really cool…but, as we’ve seen, we need to be careful in HOW we talk about
it. The next time you see an ad online for a stem
cell clinic promising a miracle cure, maybe dig a little deeper. There are some people who will take advantage
of the hype around that basic research for their own gain, making people believe that
fully-fledged treatments are out there, even though they’re really not. Everyone, this is Maren! Maren meet everyone. Maren is new to the channel, she’s a science
communicator and she’s super good at environmental science,animal behavior, and biology… You’ll be seeing her more on the channel,
give her a warm welcome! And check out this video about some recent
exciting stem cell research developments, but take a minute to think about how experiments
like this are different from an actual treatment. We think it’s just as important to talk
about the realities of science as it is to geek out over the flashy stuff, so subscribe
if you think so too. I’m Maren! I’m Trace, thanks for watching Seeker!

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