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20 Dec, 2013

Australians warned to steer clear of “stem cell tourism”


Canberra, 19 December 2013 – The National Health and Medical Research Council has warned that unproven stem cell treatments available in Australia and overseas could pose risks to the health and well-being of patients.

Today, NHMRC released ‘Stem Cell Treatments – a Quick Guide for Medical Practitioners’ and the patient-targeted document ‘Stem Cell Treatments – Frequently Asked Questions’. These documents inform medical practitioners and their patients about the stem cell treatments that are available, and the risks associated with unproven treatments.

The science of stem cells offers great potential for treating a number of conditions, however in many cases further research is required to demonstrate safety and effectiveness. Currently, the only stem cell treatment for which safety and efficacy has been scientifically established is haematopoietic (blood) stem cell transplantation for the treatment of certain blood and immune system disorders.

An increasing number of people are travelling overseas for stem cell treatments which are unproven, often referred to as ‘stem cell tourism’. Unproven treatments using a mixture of the patient’s own (autologous) cells are also being offered by private clinics in Australia.

“A new medical treatment should be tested through clinical trials to show that it is safe and effective before it is made available to the public,” NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson said. “Patients should investigate the option of participating in a registered clinical trial if they are interested in undergoing new stem cell treatments, rather than pursuing unproven treatments”.

Unproven stem cell treatments can result in serious health complications such as infection, allergic reaction or immune system rejection and in some cases, the development of cancer. In addition to the health and safety risks, these treatments often involve significant financial costs. Undergoing unproven treatments may also interfere with or delay a patient accessing proven and potentially beneficial therapies or treatment plans.

NHMRC encourages patients considering stem cell treatments to seek additional information from a trustworthy source other than the treatment provider and speak to their general or specialist medical practitioners.

“Medical practitioners should ensure their patient has a thorough understanding of the potential risks associated with undergoing these treatments,” NHMRC CEO Professor Warwick Anderson said.

“Our resources provide information to support practitioners and patients in their discussions about stem cell treatments, and ultimately to assist people to make informed choices about their medical care.”

Further information:

Stem Cell Treatments – A Quick Guide for Medical Practitioners http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/rm001

Stem Cell Treatments – Frequently Asked Questions http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/rm001

Stem Cell Treatments statement: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/stem-cell-treatments