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Buyer Beware: The New World of Adult Stem Cells

06-03-2015
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Stem cells: pro-life groups object to their use when they come from human embryos because it involves destroying the embryo.

Now, medical experts are touting the benefits of adult stem cells, which do come from embryos, but adults who are not harmed in the harvesting process.

In fact, very often the stem cells come from the patient's own body. They are being used to treat a variety of medical conditions, typically in hospital settings.

This has given rise to a new trend: stem cell clinics which are popping up across the country, an estimated 200 so far.

Basic Building Blocks

Stem cells are the basic building blocks of every one of us. They live in blood, bone, and fat, and can be used to rejuvenate other parts of the body.

Stem cell therapy involves extracting a patient's stem cells from a certain area, then injecting them into a problem area.

Dr. Mark Berman operates the Cell Surgical Network.

"You have to realize, everything that we're giving the patient back is already in their body," he explained. "All we've done is concentrate the stem cells."

The use of stem cells from bone marrow is an established therapy for a handful of blood cancers. But Dr. Berman says stem cells from fat are just as good.

Demonstrating the procedure, he said, "These cells are separated, so look -- the fat's gone to the top, and now all the cells are in the bottom."

After separating the stem cells from the fat, the stem cells are concentrated, according to Dr. Berman.

"All we do is remove all the debris, wash out the collagenase," he explained. "So when we're done we have five to ten milliliters, like, two teaspoons of a soup. And then we will inject that soup into the joint, or even intravenously."

Buyer Beware

Adult stem cell therapy is used for more than 30 conditions, including sports injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and lung disease. They're even used for face lifts and other anti-aging procedures.

The cost ranges from about $5,000 to $25,000. But does it work? Is it safe?

Most of the evidence to support the use of adult stem cell therapy is anecdotal. And there is very little regulation of stem cell clinics.

Paul Knoepfler is a stem cell researcher at University of California's Davis School of Medicine. He says when it comes to stem cell therapy, let the buyer beware.

"The stem cell technology is really exciting and it's kind of this cutting-edge 21st-century technology," he said. "But the way it's being implemented at these clinics and how it's regulated, it's more like 19th century. It's sort of like this Wild West."

Industry critics are calling for the FDA to regulate stem cell clinics, but the agency's authority to do so is not clearly defined and has been debated by legal experts for years.

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