Stem cell marketing often ‘dubious’ – study

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SHADY BUSINESS A new study has found that stem cell therapy clinics in developed countries such as the US, Japan, and Singapore engage in questionable marketing of stem cell treatments. AFP PHOTO

SHADY BUSINESS A new study has found that stem cell therapy clinics in developed countries such as the US, Japan, and Singapore engage in questionable marketing of stem cell treatments. AFP PHOTO

CLINICS offering stem cell therapy in advanced economies such as Japan and Singapore “engage in murky marketing practices,” according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney.

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Published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the study that claims to be the world’s largest-ever on stem cell clinics showed that Ireland, Singapore, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States have the highest per capita number of clinics engaging in direct-to-consumer marketing of stem cell therapies.

It revealed questionable marketing practicing, generally involving making dubious claims of stem cell therapy’s effectiveness from 417 unique websites advertising stem cell-based therapies.

“In the early days of this under-regulated industry, clinics were typically located in developing economies, where weak laws or lax enforcement enabled these businesses to operate with relative impunity,” said senior author Professor John Rasko from the University of Sydney.

However, the research found that stem cell tourism offered online was not predominately being promoted from countries in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe as commonly assumed. In the past few years, Rasko explained, richer countries such as Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States “have seen clinics take advantage of real or imagined gaps in regulation.”

The study found that a majority of the websites (83 percent) offered adult stem cells, followed by stem cells of unspecified type (13 percent). The remainder offered embryonic, induced pluripotent, or fetal stem cells (8 percent) or amniotic stem cells (1 percent). About half the sites (52 percent) did not indicate the donor source of cells.

The study also concluded that websites were frequently unclear about the medical conditions for which they offered treatment, and used “inconsistent terminology or categories of diseases across sites.”

Websites most commonly targeted anti-aging or other skincare stem cell applications (47 percent), which the study said indicated that marketers are offering treatments for lifestyle or aesthetic, rather than strictly medical, concerns. Such claims, the paper noted, “are typically made without supporting evidence from randomized, controlled independent clinical trials and lack market authorization from a regulatory authority.”

The highest number of clinics undertaking direct-to-consumer marketing was found in the US, with 87 clinics, followed by India (35), Mexico (28), China (23), Australia (19), and the UK (16).

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