Costa Rica shuts stem cell clinic

Costa Rica shuts stem cell clinic

Tuesday, June 22 2010 @ 09:38 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Views: 63
By Leslie Josephs (Reuters) – Costa Rica has ordered the country’s largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatment, saying there is no proof that it is effective, the country’s health minister said on Wednesday. About 400 patients, mostly foreigners from the United States, have been treated at the Institute of Cellular Medicine in San Jose for multiple sclerosis, arthritis, spinal injuries and other illnesses. “This isn’t allowed in any serious country in the world,” Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila said in a telephone interview. The Health Ministry several weeks ago ordered the clinic, owned by Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, to stop performing the treatment, in which stem cells extracted from the patients are reinjected into their bodies. The ministry said the clinic has a permit to store the stem cells extracted from patients’ own fat tissue, bone marrow and donated umbilical cords but is not authorized to perform the treatment.
Sylvia Molina, an assistant at the clinic, said it would shut its doors on Friday. Neither Riordan nor the clinic’s medical director, Fabio Solano, were immediately available for comment. Riordan’s team uses adult stem cells, which can be found throughout the body. These master cells of the body give rise to many different tissues and blood cells and are standard treatments for leukemia and a few other genetic diseases. They are different from embryonic stem cells, taken from human embryos. But Riordan’s treatment approach is considered experimental by most experts and the International Society of Stem Cell research has warned against so-called stem cell tourism. Doctors at Riordan’s clinic have said that they have seen excellent results from the procedure, but ministry officials said that there is no proof that the treatments work. The stem cell treatments at the Costa Rica institute cost between $5,000 and $30,000.

China, Thailand and Mexico also offer stem cell treatments, but Costa Rica’s stability, modern tourism infrastructure and proximity to the United States had made it a preferred destination for many patients. Riordan has a U.S. company called Aidan Products that sells, among other things, a nutritional supplement that his team says can stimulate the body’s production of blood stem cells. He also operates a stem cell clinic in Panama and is chairman of Arizona-based Medistem Inc.

Editor’s Comment: I was just contacted by a journalist from the US who is covering this story as well. There is a “Stem Cell Institute” in the Punta Pacifica Hospital in Panama City. The same Sylvia Molina mentioned in this article is responsible for their website. About the closing of their offices in Costa Rica, they say on their website “The Stem Cell Institute announced today that it proactively and independently made the business decision in early June to close its clinic and lab in Costa Rica and centralize all operations in Panama City, Panama. This decision was made voluntarily. This decision, which came after careful consideration, was reached in response to Costa Rica’s unpredictable and arbitrary regulatory landscape. During its time in Costa Rica the company operated in full compliance with all existing laws and regulations. Unfortunately, however, the recent lack of clarity regarding adult stem cell treatment regulation in Costa Rica proved to be too great a risk for The Stem Cell Institute to continue its work in that country.” In Panama it’s common for people to operate within the loopholes, for awhile anyway until they are shut down. Now that Costa Rica has made the decision to shut down the operation there, the office that remains open here in Panama is coming under increasing scrutiny.

My Humble Opinion: On their website they claim “The Stem Cell Institute is a cutting edge medical clinic that uses adult stem cells to treat chronic diseases for which there are inadequate standard therapies. The Institute is currently accepting patients with Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, Diabetes Type 2, Heart Failure, Osteoarthritis & Degenerative Joint Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Spinal Cord Injury.” Spinal cord injury? You mean, like my brothers in arms, the military guys who have gotten their asses blown off by IED’s in Iraq? At this point I think I support continued research using stem cells to try to develop the science to find something that might work. However, it seems blazingly clear that the potential for stem cells is still very far away from coming up with something that actually works. From the National Institute of Health’s special dedicated pages on Stem Cell Research – “Have human embryonic stem cells successfully treated any human diseases? Scientists have been able to do experiments with human embryonic stem cells (hESC) only since 1998, when a group led by Dr. James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin developed a technique to isolate and grow the cells. Although hESC are thought to offer potential cures and therapies for many devastating diseases, research using them is still in its early stages. In late January 2009, the California-based company Geron received FDA clearance to begin the first human clinical trial of cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. However, this trial has been placed on a Clinical Hold by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can see a press release on the current status of the trial here: http://www.geron.com/patients/clinicaltrials/hESC.aspx.”

It Does Not Work: Right now, today, June 2010, there is apparently no scientifically verifiable research that these stem cell treatments actually work. I think these guys in Panama are following the law. I doubt Panamanian law addresses the issue of Stem Cell treatments in any way. However, I also suspect these guys are simply taking advantage of the desperation of very sick people who are willing to burn up the last of their money grasping at the hope that maybe, just maybe, something might work. They say this “stem cell therapy” is used to “treat” all of these conditions. They are very careful to not make any claims that it will work. Shit, I can give you a can of Pepsi and say that it’s being used to “treat” your spinal cord injury – and leave it at that. My take thus far is that this whole thing is just so much snake oil, and sooner or later they will go away.

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