Boom of stem cell therapy in China

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Business with stem cell cures in China - medicine in blind flight

In China, business with stem cells that are actually forbidden is in full swing. Despite the government's efforts in Beijing to bring the questionable business practices of clinics and doctors under control, the supply of stem cell treatments is booming.

Research by the news agency "dpa" has shown that stem cell cures are available in China for the treatment of numerous diseases. For example, Doctor Li from Zhongshan Hospital in the central Chinese metropolis of Wuhan: "We use stem cells to help treat autism." Other doctors promise successful treatment of cerebral palsy or even Parkinson's. However, the users of the stem cell cures apparently do not have an approval and the effect of the treatment is by no means scientifically proven. Here, business is being done with the hopeless situation of patients, according to medical experts worldwide.

Stem cell cures also prohibited in China According to Dr. Li from "the umbilical cord of newborns." Then the cells are injected into the patient and "naturally find their destination", the doctor at Zhongshan Hospital describes the miraculous healing effect of the therapy. When asked by “dpa” over the phone, she explained that neither rejection nor “biochemical reactions of the body, consequential damage or gene mutations” should be expected. The promises of the Chinese clinics are tempting: Alzheimer's, paralysis, Parkinson's and even cancer should be successfully treated with the stem cell cures. All for the price of a few thousand euros. However, such treatments are actually also prohibited in China, not least because there is no scientific evidence of their effects and the stem cells can sometimes pose a significant health risk. Critical physicians expressly warn of the consequential damage to health that threatens with stem cell treatments.

Stem cell treatment in humans by no means safe The Chinese health authorities are well aware of this risk, and so Doctor Chen Lei from the National Cell Center in Beijing emphasized to the “dpa” that it is “crazy to say that stem cell treatment in humans is safe.” Here is the "medicine in blind flight", with possible "defense reactions and effectiveness remain uncertain", criticized Dr. Lei. He is aware of serious complications or complications such as tumor formation from stem cell cures, the expert explained. However, for Dr. It is also clear why the business is still booming: "It is a huge temptation for those desperate patients and their families." The Ministry of Health in Beijing is also aware of the problem. Due to the lack of proof of medical benefit, no therapy has been approved so far and in January the ministry explicitly prohibited all treatments or clinical trials with stem cell cures. According to the research carried out by the "dpa", numerous Chinese clinics do not seem to adhere to this requirement. All offered stem cell cures "are not allowed" and "What do you think, why we have issued these regulations?", Yin Shike from the Ministry of Health replied to the "dpa" request.

Stem cell cures surrounded by the “aura of established acceptance” In particular, the military hospitals, which are not subordinate to the Ministry of Health, advertise despite the prohibition on continued wealthy customers by offering stem cell cures. You obviously have a different legal opinion here than the Ministry. When asked by “dpa”, a doctor from the General Hospital of the Jinan Military Command (Shandong Province) said that “so far only military hospitals are allowed to perform stem cell therapies”. Your clinic even offers stem cell treatments for some cancers for around 20,800 yuan. However, the exact treatment costs "depend on the individual patient," continued the General Hospital doctor. The trend observed in China is quite worrying for experts worldwide. Because the very existence of the stem cell departments in the large, renowned clinics gives the treatment an “aura of established acceptance”, according to the accusation in the British science magazine “Nature”. In addition, there is intensive advertising and the spreading of stories about miraculous healing successes. Furthermore, the clinics often fool potential customers into maintaining good relationships with celebrities, high-ranking politicians and leading scientists, which is intended to underline their supposed reputation.

Promise to cure Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer Completely unashamed by the legal consequences, Doctor Li from Zhongshan Hospital also explained to the "dpa" for what purposes stem cell cures are offered in her hospital. This includes the treatment of "patients with cerebral palsy" (paralysis due to brain damage) and Parkinson's. Remarkable, since these diseases are still considered incurable to this day. The treatment of cerebral palsy is said to cost only 30,000 to 40,000 yuan (3,700 to 4,900 euros) and around 50,000 yuan (Parkinson’s disease). "There are neither backlashes nor consequential damages," the doctor emphasized to the "dpa". Dr. explained about the success of the treatment Li says that "it usually takes the patient two or three months to recover." Afterwards, however, the patients are "in very good condition," says Dr. Li continue. However, the doctor preferred to leave critical questions from the news agency unanswered on the phone. She did not want to give the name of the treating stem cell expert in her hospital and when asked about a license for the stem cell cures, Doctor Li replied with the counter question: “We have been treating with stem cells for two years. We couldn't do that if it were forbidden, could we? ”

Stem cell cures modern quackery In principle, the offer of the Chinese clinics is nothing more than the miracle drug sales of modern quacks. There is no evidence of effectiveness and instead significant side effects are to be feared. However, since patients with Parkinson's, cancer or cerebral palsy are often so desperate that they grab every straw, a lot of money can be earned here. Celebrities like the German artist Jörg Immendorf, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - an incurable nerve disease - fell for the healing promises. In 2005, Immendorf went to Beijing for treatment with embryonic stem cells. According to “dpa”, these were injected directly into his brain, but his illness could not be cured. Around two years after the intervention, Immendorf died of the consequences of ALS. (fp)

Read also about stem cells:
Negative conclusion after 10 years of stem cell research
Artificial trachea from cancer stem cells
Stem cells for the treatment of eye diseases?

Image: Rainer Sturm /

Author and source information

Video: Spotlight Session: The Evolution of Cell and Gene Therapy in China


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