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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Autism and Stem Cells

As an earlier post explained, there is legitimate research into stem cells and autism. But it will be many years before this research actually does something for people on the spectrum. Meanwhile, as Time reports some are still trying to make a buck:

Stem cell research is on the tip of everyone's tongue and regularly in the news, but a panel of British health officials warns that a global crop of unlicensed clinics is taking advantage of all the publicity.

Clinics in places as varied as Mexico, Thailand, Germany, Russia and China offer stem cell therapies with high price tags and little clinical evidence to back them up. Because such clinics are not illegal, experts in the emerging field of regenerative medicine are combating the misinformation with a guide to good quality treatment.

If you are thinking about trying stem cell therapy for anything from autism to diabetes to lupus, it might be worth your while to peruse the Task Force on Unproven Stem Cell Treatments' website, part of The International Society for Stem Cell Research.

"I've made some very strong comments which could potentially land me in court, but people still go to these clinics," said Professor Peter Coffey, director of the London Project to Cure Blindness at University College London. There are now several hundred clinics around the world which claim to have turned the potential of stem cells into effective treatments. They lure those suffering from diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart failure, Parkinson's disease, autism, HIV, eye problems, spinal cord injuries and much else besides.

Several thousand people from around the world so far are estimated to have spent up to £20,000 or more in such places. Yet while stem cells could transform medicine, there is as yet scant actual proof of their efficacy. But still the tourists come.

The fact that scientists believe it is likely to be 15 to 20 years before the continuing worldwide flurry of trials and tests results in reliable treatments has not stopped clinics from offering exactly that already. Strong regulation means there are no such places in the UK or America. But the experts did single out the XCell Centre in Düsseldorf, Germany, and Beike Technology, which runs one in Shenzhen in China.