Current Stem Cell Treatments
What is the most common stem cell treatment?
Stem cell therapy using tissue stem cells has been in routine use since the 1970s! The most well-established and widely used stem cell treatment is the transplantation of blood stem cells to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers, for example, leukaemia. Bone marrow transplants are able to replace a patient’s diseased blood system for life, thanks to the properties of blood stem cells.
The late Professor Donald Metcalf, AC, who transformed cancer treatment and transplantation medicine paved the way for stem cell therapy in the treatment of leukaemia and many other conditions. Don Metcalf’s research on blood cell formation led directly to the development of bone marrow transplantation. This treatment is used worldwide every day, and has saved many thousands of lives. Each year the NSCFA celebrates Professor Metcalf’s achievement with The annual Metcalf Prize. This prize of $50,000 is awarded to the brightest mid-career female and male Australian stem cell researcher.
Stem cells are seen as a key tool in the future of medicine, for their abilities to regenerate damaged tissue, replace missing tissue and repair the effects of disease or injury. Experimental stem cell therapy is being developed for many common diseases, including blindness, stroke, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and heart attacks.
Important research is being undertaken by reputable hospital, biotechnology and university groups in Australia and around the world. However, it is still early days, and some private non-academic organisations and individual practitioners are offering stem cell treatments that have not been shown to be effective and have not been proven to be safe. If you’d like to help Australian researchers progress stem cell treatments, donate to the NSCFA because that’s exactly the work we support.
I have been offered a stem cell treatment / I have read about new treatments on the internet. What are these?
Currently, the range of diseases for which there are proven treatments using stem cells is quite small and the only established stem cell therapies are those of the blood system involving transplants of blood stem cells (usually from bone marrow but with cord blood also being developed as an alternative).
We recognise that patients and families who are facing severe illness or injury may consider trying untested treatments, especially when there seem to be few other options. People in this situation may be at risk of harm, through lack of information or misinformation provided by less reputable practitioners who are not recognised specialists or experts in the diseases they are proposing to treat.
We recommend that you are very cautious before you agree to try an untested treatment, particularly if it costs a lot of money. Your regular hospital doctors, specialists, and your general practitioner, should be able to offer accurate advice on which treatments have been proven to work, and which are unproven, unlikely to help, and may even cause harm. If it sounds to be too good to be true, be wary. The best protection for patients and families in this situation is to be fully informed.
So how can I find out if the stem cell treatment is untested and what questions should I ask?
Fortunately several highly respected resources are available via the internet to help you.
Several booklets can be downloaded to be read later or printed. If you cannot download a document or do not have access to a printer please send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note we do not provide advice on stem cell treatments, clinics, or any medical advice whatsoever.
- The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and Stem Cells Australia have produced a brochure to help you: The Australian Stem Cell Handbook. The Handbook aims to help patients critically analyse stem cell treatments before considering taking part in them. As with all medical treatments, there are risks involved. This Handbook does not seek to advise or evaluate the treatments, or an individual’s reasons for travelling for treatment. Instead it aims to provide the patient with as much information as possible prior to considering any therapy. This Handbook summarises the pros and cons of medical travel, potential risks and benefits, and helps patients evaluate their options when considering travelling overseas for unproven treatments.
- The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has prepared a Patient Handbook on Stem Cell Therapies that addresses frequently asked questions about clinical therapies using stem cells.
- Access this international website on stem cells, research, and how stem cells become medicine. The website is aimed at the non-medical general public: www.closerlookatstemcells.org
- Check the section on the ISSCR website for their checklist of What to Ask when talking to someone promoting a stem cell treatment of any type.
Australia is home to many leading stem cell scientists and research institutes. These frequently hold seminars to discuss recent stem cell discoveries, research in Australia, and the promotion of non-medically proven stem cells treatments via the internet and social media. Below is a list of resources from Australia and international sources.
- Watch this video where international stem cell scientists and ethicists discuss the marketing of stem cell treatments in Hype Vs Hope
- Watch the video of a 2018 Public Forum where leading Australian stem cell scientists talk abut their research and the use of stem cells in the eyes, skin, kidney, heart, and blood
- Listen to fabulous Australian and International stem cell scientists chat about stem cell discoveries with John Faine on ABC Radio’s Conversation Hour (please download and link to audio file if possible)
- Listen to Australian stem cell scientist and ethicist Megan Munsie talk on ABC Radio National about the online marketing by private stem cell clinics and the risks to consumers. Hear from someone who went overseas for a stem cell treatment for MS.
- Watch an investigation “Are stem cell injections the answer to your pain”, by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation into the practices of private stem cell clinics