The Consumer

New rules will regulate stem-cell therapy use

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All the publicity about stem-cell therapy (SCT), including endorsements from some of the country’s most powerful people and brightest stars, has made it seem like a miracle cure, even a cure-all.

From the treatment of life-threatening medical problems to reversing the effects of aging, people are now beginning to look to SCT—especially if they can afford it—for salvation.

But, according to a doctor I know, there are actually only two proven applications for the therapy right now. The rest, at this stage, is really still experimental. People have, of course, volunteered for pioneering procedures, hoping for a cure for whatever ails them.

Education still needed

That’s well and good, as long as they are fully informed and give their unequivocal consent to being experimented on. The problem, however, is some people undergo the therapy without fully understanding it. And there are groups that seem to think that because they have Googled the therapy and read everything on the Net about it, they are capable of doing the procedure.

I mentioned in this column previously that even beauty parlors were offering to do SCT. Although it would be only for cosmetic purposes, the procedure is too new and complex to leave in the hands of beauticians.

Finally, the Department of Health has issued rules and regulations to regulate the SCT practice, a move warmly welcomed by the medical community, particularly the Philippine Medical Association and Philippine Society for Stem Cell Medicine, which expressed concern before that the popularity of SCT would lead to abuse and illegal practice if left unregulated.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona, in published reports, said the guidelines aimed to safeguard the “welfare of our patients and the general public by making [sure] safe, effective and ethical stem-cell modalities and practices are within emerging international and global standards considering the very complex nature of this therapy.”

Among other things, the rules restrict the use of genetically altered stem cells and tissues of human adults and the umbilical cord, fat-derived human stem cells and live animal stem cells.

Ask questions

I learned that some groups were offering to harvest stem cells from the umbilical cord of newborns and from the placenta to families that could afford their fees. They tell parents the harvested stem cells will be kept in storage for use by the child should he/she need it in the future. The fees, I understand, are in the hundreds of thousands of, even million, pesos.

If the parents are willing and can afford it, they are perfectly free to do that. I just hope they know exactly where and how the stem cells will be stored. Will the stem cells stay safe and usable until needed? What are the guarantees that only the family will have access to it? These and other questions should be asked—and answered—before families agree to anything.

FDA warning

Last week, too, the DOH’s Food and Drug Administration cautioned the public about buying food supplements that claimed to cure cancer.

While many doctors do not discourage the use of herbal products, what they are concerned about is the fact that patients stop using prescribed medication or therapy, relying solely on these preparations for their cure. The word supplement says it all—the products are meant to supplement whatever medical therapies people have to undergo. They are not substitutes for the treatment.

Patients should be open with their doctors and tell them exactly what supplements and nutritional aids they are taking to ensure that these are compatible with whatever prescription the physicians will give.

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