NYSCF Hosts Panel on Stem Cell Tourism With Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics


This week, NYSCF hosted a panel discussion with the Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute for Bioethics to discuss a growing issue: stem cell tourism.

“Stem cell tourism” refers to clinics that offer unregulated and unproven stem cell treatments at a high cost to patients. These treatments often leave patients with little relief and can even make their symptoms worse.

In the past, people would often seek unregulated treatments from clinics outside of the United States. But now, you can find them all over the country.

“It used to be a question of whether or not you should go to China for something like this, but now it’s a question of whether you should go to New Jersey or Florida,” says Francesco Clark, Founder and CEO of Clark’s Botanicals and a board member of the Berman Institute and NYSCF’s Junior Leadership Council. Clark underwent a stem cell treatment in China after obtaining a spinal cord injury.

The panel also addressed one of the big questions surrounding this topic: how can you tell if a treatment is legitimate or not?

According to NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, one key is to look at the price. If the treatment has one, that’s a problem.

“Clinical trials don’t cost any money. If the treatment you’re looking at requires that you pay a large fee, that’s a red flag.”

David Carmel, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Atara Biotherapeutics and a founding and emeritus board member of NYSCF, says it should all boil down to one question: What am I getting here?

“Stem cells aren’t all the same, so you need to know what type of cells are involved. And it also has to be in a controlled setting that is approved by a review board.”

Jeffrey Khan, PhD, MPH, the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Berman Institute and a professor in Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, also stressed the importance of governmental oversight.

“We just don’t have sufficient regulation for this issue,” he explains. “Right now, anything can get posted on clinicaltrials.gov even if it isn’t approved, and there has even been a debate on whether these treatments are something the FDA can regulate. But we need more oversight to keep people safe.”

The panel then took questions from the audience, speaking about the process of moving treatments out of animal trials and into the clinic as well as what steps established institutions should take to address stem cell tourism.

Watch the full discussion below:

Learn more about the Berman Institute here.

Diseases & Conditions:

Stem Cell Biology