Type "stem cell treatments" into Google and you'll find yourself inundated with invitations to fancy clinics in faraway places. Apparently, these "miracle cures" can help with everything from incontinence to autism. But dig a little deeper, and what you find may surprise you.
In the future, stem cells may hold the key to treating some of mankind's most challenging diseases. Unfortunately, the future is not now. And stem cell scammers know this all too well, preying on desperate people in desperate situations.
In an effort to separate fact from fiction, I reached out to Dr. David Scadden, co-founder and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Watch the video above and/or click the link below to learn more. And don't forget to sound off by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page. Talk nerdy to me!
CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria, here. Not long ago, I read a heartbreaking story about a boy with a debilitating neurologic disease. He traveled far from home, seeking a miracle cure, only to return another victim of stem cell tourism. Dr. David Scadden, co-founder and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, told us the details.
DAVID SCADDEN: It was a genetic disease. That disease resulted in deterioration of the brain, nervous system, and so the parents in Israel took the child to Russia where he received an infusion of cells that were not terribly well characterized and had been extensively cultured and had been injected into the spinal cord and the child deteriorated. And what was found was that the child now acquired multiple new tumors in his brain and spinal cord. When the neurosurgeon went in and took some of those tumors out, could genetically test them, and found they did not come out of the child, they could not have come from the parent, they actually had to have come from the donor. So in this case at least there was the development of a new disease making the already bad state of the child even worse.
CSM: In recent years, stem cell scams have been cropping up all over the world. Conspiracy theorists claim that the U.S. government is trying to prevent its citizens from accessing legitimate cures for illnesses like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Lou Gehrig's Disease. But the plain and simple truth is that stem cell treatments for these diseases do not exist. Anyone trying to tell you otherwise is most likely looking for a big payday, taking advantage of desperate people in desperate situations. And these scammers aren't just destroying the lives of their victims, they could be setting back stem cell research as a whole.
DS: Unless things are done in a very proper way with a lot of oversight that the field as a whole could be set back and that would be a real tragedy frankly. This is a field that offers a lot of promise, it will be slow, it will be delivered and it will be something that requires a lot of careful oversight, and if we allow these other areas to move forward they have potential for really destroying what’s good.
CSM: And what's good is really good. See, stem cells are special in that they can divide over and over again and when they do, they can potentially give rise to any cells found within the human body. They're pluripotent, meaning that they have the power, or potency to become many--pluri--different kinds of cells in an organism. Scientists can even force adult cells to act more like embryonic stem cells by manipulating their genes. These are called induced pluripotent cells, and they're offering so much promise for treatments on the horizon. Right now, bone marrow transplants can cure blood and immune diseases like leukemia, and bone, skin, and corneal grafts can be grown from a patient's own cells to replace damaged tissue. But these are the only examples of legitimate stem cell treatments that are currently available. Know the facts about stem cell research and treatment. To learn more, visit www.closerlookatstemcells.org. Sound off by reaching out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or leave a comment right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!