China struggles to regulate unproven stem-cell treatments

Latest press release from Nature, 11 April 2012

Three months after the Chinese Ministry of Health ramped up its efforts to enforce a ban on the clinical use of unapproved stem-cell treatments, a Nature investigation reveals that businesses around the country are still charging patients thousands of dollars for these unproven therapies.

The clinics operate openly, with websites promoting the treatments for serious disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and autism, and attract thousands of medical tourists from overseas. They advertise case studies of individual patients who they say have benefited from the treatments, but none has published data from controlled clinical trials ― the gold standard for any new treatment. Leading stem-cell scientists insist that such therapies are not ready for the clinic and say that some may even endanger patients’ health.

When pressed, all of the stem-cell clinics approached by Nature said that they were aware of the government regulations, and that they were necessary — but only for other clinics that were not operating safely. A Ministry of Health representative told Nature that it was aware of the problem, and that it would be making greater efforts to clean up the stem-cell business.

For follow up interviews with the reporter on this story, please contact David Cyranoski in Tokyo on: [email protected]


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