Stem Cell Fearmongering

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

In a recent Canadian Medical Association Journal case report, Canadian researchers report the case of a 38-year-old man who suffered an adverse event from a very specific form of stem cell therapy – an olfactory mucosa graft.

Rather than simply present the medical particulars of the case itself, the authors proceed to make a broad indictment of stem cell therapy (SCT) as a whole. This politicization is unnecessary, irresponsible and patently unscientific.

Furthermore, it undermines the objectivity of the research itself and regrettably continues the trend of SCT fearmongering prevalent in certain mainstream publications like STAT and the Los Angeles Times, which immediately ran with the story, pushing a fear-based narrative.

In the procedure in question, nasal cells were transplanted into a spinal cord lesion that resulted from a spinal fraction that occurred when the patient was 20 years old, leaving him partially paralyzed .

He had the olfactory mucosa graft in Portugal at age 26 to potentially treat his pain and paralysis. The treatment was unsuccessful.

A dozen years later, the patient experienced deteriorating neurological function and doctors discovered a large mass on his spine “with mucinious material and tissue consistent with ectopic olfactory mucosa.”

This discovery confirmed the doctors’ preoperative diagnosis that the spinal mass was related to the stem cell procedure the patient had undergone years prior.

If the authors had stopped there, this could be considered an important contribution to the stem cell literature. Cases of adverse events from any medical procedure should be reported and taken seriously.

Unfortunately, the authors proceed much further to extrapolate wildly from their one very unique case of a very specific and experimental form of SCT. Rather than present the data and their scientific analysis, they stray into the political, diminishing the overall value of their work. Sadly, the paper reads more like an op-ed rather than objective peer-reviewed research.

The paper’s most glaring and egregious problem is that it lumps all forms of SCT together with no mention of the different types of cells, different tissues those cells come from, different methods of administration of those cells, and the differences in the clinics offering those therapies. These distinctions are critical and the authors’ failure to discuss them is troubling to say the least.  

Instead, the authors condemn the stem cell “industry” in toto, lumping cosmetic and medical procedures together, with no justification as to why the two are technically comparable, and lamenting the phantom maelstrom of SCT adverse advents that curiously has yet to materialize.

The authors then make a rather supreme leap in logic with the unsubstantiated claim that, “although some of the reported adverse events might relate to surgical technique alone, others are likely the direct result of the yet unproven treatments using stem cells.”

They provide absolutely no evidentiary basis for such a sweeping claim. If a claim cannot be supported by evidence then it should not be made. Otherwise, anyone who reads the claim might be left to make reasonable inferences about professionalism, undisclosed subjectivities and possible hidden agendas.

A. Rahman Ford.jpg

A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.