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Panel 213 - Fake News, Fake Therapies: Upping the Ante in the fight against unproven stem cell therapies in Canada

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 8th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Fake News, Fake Therapies: Upping the Ante in the Fight Against Unproven Stem Cell Therapies in Canada

Organized by: Stem Cell Network, Lisa Willemse

Speakers: Harold Atkins, Physician, Ottawa Hospital Blood and Marrow Transplant Program; Jennifer Molson, Research Assistant, Ages Cancer Assessment Clinic, Ottawa Hospital; Cate Murray, Executive Director & COO, Stem Cell Network; Amy Zarzeczny, Associate Professor, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Regina

Moderator: Torah Kachur, Columnist, CBC Radio One

Takeaways and recommendations

  • The clinical use of stem cells has witnessed tangible therapeutic progress, including an Ottawa-based trial that successfully treated multiple sclerosis patients resulting in long-term freedom from MS activity.

  • Stem cell research is a promising field that, with time and effort, is expected to advance our understandings of human biology and improve clinical options for a wide range of conditions.

  • The clinical translation of stem cell research is a tremendously complex process that requires rigorous science and ethical oversight to protect the well-being of participants as well as the long-term potential of the field.

  • Though much stem cell research remains limited and still at the earliest stages of application, some commercial stem cell clinics promise results that deliver far greater progress to patients. These claims are often unsupported by peer-reviewed evidence.

  • The scale of the international market for unproven stem cell-based interventions is difficult to measure though recent research suggests it is growing quickly, including in both the United States and Canada. This trend raises a number of concerns including potential risks to patients, some of whom have been harmed by unproven stem cell-based therapies.

  • Researchers, including members of the Stem Cell Network, are working to raise awareness of the concerns associated with the widespread availability of unproven stem cell-based interventions and to inform policy development in this area.

  • There are a variety of policy options and mechanisms available to address the various issues raised by Canada’s market for unproven stem cell-based interventions including information-based strategies, regulation of drugs and medical devices, consumer protection and truth-in-advertising regulation, medical professional regulation and legal suits.

  • The growing market for unproven stem cell-based interventions is a complex situation and addressing the many concerns it raises will require the involvement of diverse stakeholders including researchers, clinicians, regulators and patients.

Early-stage research and unproven therapies - the roots of stem cell tourism

  • There is a great deal of legitimate enthusiasm and hope surrounding the future of stem cell research. However, overly optimistic portrayals of the potential of still early-stage research by researchers and media alike risk encouraging unrealistic public expectations about when stem cell treatments should be available to patients. These expectations likely serve to fuel demand for unproven stem cell-based interventions and may lead some patients to believe that rather than facilitating the development of safe and effective therapies, regulation is standing in the way of clinical progress.

  • Just as social media has helped build public interest in and bolstered the credibility of unproven stem cell-based interventions, these same digital technologies could be used to spread accurate information about the limitations and dangers of such treatments.

  • Members of the research community, together with the media, have an important role to play in strengthening science communication and ensuring accurate and measured reporting of research developments and their potential implications.

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