September 16, 2008

Medicos for Law on Stem Cell Therapy

CHENNAI: Can patients be charged for a therapy that is still under research? Can they be forced to make payments even though they have seen no result with the therapy? Is stem cell therapy more hype than hope?

In an interaction with Dr Alok Srivatsava, head of department of haematology, students of Stanley Medical College raised several issues in an attempt to bring stem cell therapy out of the shadows. The deeper they got into the discussion , the more convinced they got about the need for legislation to regulate stem cell therapy.

The guidelines for research and stem cell therapy by the Department of Biotechnology and Indian Council of Medical Research and the draft policy of the International Council for Stem Cell Research were discussed in detail.

Stem cells are special cells found in the human body that can regenerate into a diverse range of cell types. "There is no scientific proof that stem cell therapy can cure any disease , except some blood-related ones. Though trials for most of the other streams are at various stages, hospitals charge exorbitant fees for stem cell therapy without assured results ," Dr Srivatsava said.

Medicos said emails of patients complaining of hospitals over promised results through stem cell therapy have been in circulation. Some hospitals have been promising cure for paraplegia, cancer and other diseases.

"While some anaesthetists tell us how difficult it is to inject at the right spot in the spine after several years of practice, some hospitals have only MBBS doctors injecting cells into spines. How can this happen?" said one MBBS students . His post-graduate colleague added: "Patients are told that this stem cell therapy would have no side effects. But can these cells have the potential to turn cancerous after sometime?"

To many such questions, Srivatsava had just had one answer: "We will have to deal with it carefully to avoid the worst surprises science can throw up," he said. Head of surgical gastroenterology Dr Surendran said the department would soon start research on stem cells.

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