Stem cell transplants still in experimental stage: Expert

The claims of certain private firms about its therapy are misleading

Stem cell transplants still in experimental stage: Expert

Organised by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Department of Biotechnology, the expert panel stressed that while stem cell therapy was being viewed as the supposed panacea to all incurable diseases, all the stem cell transplants, expect bone marrow transplants, were in an experimental stage even today.

Hence, the claims of certain private firms about stem cell therapy were misleading. Most of the researches were still in pre-trial stage. Some other concerns that came to light were potential of stem cells to create tumours and how long would the cells survive.
Dr S S Agarwal, one of the key persons in forming the guidelines, said that the interactive session had twin purposes - creating awareness about stem cells and to get some valuable suggestions which could be added in the final draft of the guidelines, to be prepared by May.

“Once the final draft is made, we will push it to be incorporated in legislation,” he said. The guidelines for stem cell research and therapy were formulated by ICMR and DBT in 2007, but few researchers are following it.

Ethical, moral dilemma

Dr Agarwal also pointed that commodification of embryonic stem cells was the main ethical and moral dilemma facing stem cell research, with the guideline suggesting use of only surplus or spare embryos that were created for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVT) after consent from the couple.

Also, it has been included in the restricted area of research. Safety of donors, conflict of interest, hype over making unproven remedies and lack of public awareness were some of the concerns, which needed to be looked into.

Dr Alok Srivastava, head of Department of Haematology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, highlighted that while certain news magazines and articles were creating hype over stem cell therapy with case studies, they did not mention that the stem cell transplants were in an experimental stage and lacked evidence to prove it’s success.

In fact, some of the state governments were already discussing about how business models in this area, even though the research is still going on, he said.

Unlimited possibilities

“While stem cell therapies hold unlimited possibilities, they are not completely proven,” he said.  Meanwhile, an apex committee and a task force on steam cell research and therapy have been formed to monitor institutions that claim to provide ‘stem cell therapy’. Once the guidelines are made into an Act, these institutions could be penalised and stringent action could be taken, he added.

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