Doctors probe deaths of 3 politicians after stem cell treatment

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12:20 AM June 25th, 2013

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By: Leila B. Salaverria, June 25th, 2013 12:20 AM

Researcher Shruti Dave (R) and assistant Chetan Patel work on stem cell cultures at the Transplantation Biology Research Centre situated at The Institute of Kidney Disease and Research Centre (IKDRC), Civil Hospital campus in Ahmedabad on February 6, 2013. AFP FILE PHOTO

The late Rep. Erico Aumentado of Bohol province underwent stem cell therapy in Germany last September and felt like “Superman” before he died of pneumonia last Christmas at the age of 72, his son told the Inquirer on Monday.

Aris Aumentado, the incoming representative from Bohol, said his father felt better on his return from Germany that he got rid of his cane and wheelchair.

“He was like Superman,” he told reporters, a day after the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) issued a warning against the so-called “xenogenic,” or animal-based, stem cell therapy.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. also said on Monday that Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo also underwent stem cell therapy before he died on April 24 at the age of 77, also of pneumonia.

Aris said his father was advised to rest after the German trip, but because he felt so good, he went around campaigning in his district. He said that before the procedure, his father had already suffered from thrombosis in his leg because his sugar could not be controlled.

The elder Aumentado also suffered bouts of pneumonia even before. It was pneumonia that caused his father’s death, Aris said, adding he did not think it was complications from the new therapy. “His lungs were weak even before,” he said.

Belmonte surmised that his two late colleagues were not the best candidates for the controversial procedure. The treatment may have given them a false sense of hope, he said.

PMA investigation

On Monday, the PMA said it was looking into the recent deaths of three politicians who supposedly traveled to Germany last year to receive the xenogenic treatment.

Dr. Leo Olarte, the PMA’s president and spokesman of the Philippine Society for Stem Cell Medicine (PSSCM), did not identify the three on request of their families pending the result of the joint investigation of the organizations.

He said the groups were still trying to find out whether these politicians—two from Mindanao—died due to illness or to hypersensitivity reaction from the animal-based stem cells they had received.

Based on initial information, the three politicians separately availed themselves of stem cell therapy using sheep in Germany about six months to a year ago, Olarte said. They died March and April this year, he said.

“We are now trying to determine what caused their death, whether their deaths were hastened because of the fact that they received xenogenic stem cells,” Olarte said.

He explained that xenogenic stem cell sources, or those derived from animals, could trigger complications, specifically “graft versus host reaction.”

“There is a possibility that a reaction can occur after six months of treatment. The body can reject the foreign cells,” Olarte pointed out.

But he was quick to add that they have to complete the investigation first before jumping to conclusions because it was also possible that the congressmen died mainly because they were sick, which made them seek stem cell therapy abroad in the first place.

DOH-authorized procedure

The PMA official also reiterated that receiving animal-based stem cells was dangerous, saying that if Filipinos were to seek therapy, they must opt for autologous adult stem cell treatment, which is derived from the patient’s own blood, bone marrow or fat.

This kind of treatment, which is available in the Philippines, is the only approved stem cell therapy by the Department of Health (DOH) because it had already been internationally proven as the safest procedure available, noted Olarte.

He said Filipinos should seek stem cell therapy only in DOH-approved hospitals and clinics, warning them about foreign doctors who fly into the country offering their expensive services.

On Sunday, the PMA and the PSSCM reported that there were German doctors asking Filipino patients to check in at five-star hotels in Metro Manila, where they perform xenogenic stem cell therapy for around P1 million per shot.

The groups said they had sought the help of the authorities to put a stop to the practice, which was tainting the country’s legitimate practice of regenerative medicine.

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