Special report: Regenerative medicine looks East

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Special report: Regenerative medicine looks East

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 08, 2011
From the April 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


For instance, Beike Biotech, one of the most popular clinics for western medical tourists, in Shenzhen, boasts on its website that its “proprietary” stem cell therapy can treat “ataxia, brain injury, cerebral palsy, diabetic foot disease, lower limb ischemia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury and optic nerve damage.”

What evidence the clinics provide for their patients typically takes the form of inspiring anecdotes and patient testimonials. “They sell stories, they don’t sell science,” Hoffman said.

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Regardless of how well the stories sell, the credibility of China’s stem cell science has certainly taken a beating, with many international researchers unaware that China offers the field anything aside from centers hawking unproven therapies to desperate foreigners. This is especially irksome to the legitimate academic researchers, who typically have nothing to do with the stem cell centers. “They’re very separate,” McMahon said.

The government knows this and has made efforts to fight back. In May 2009, China issued new regulations meant to curb the wild practices of these clinics. The regulations classified stem cell treatment as a “category 3” medical technology, meaning a clinic offering the therapy would have to show a national regulatory body evidence of clinical efficacy and safety before it could be used on patients. The rules were meant to take effect by fall 2009, but, two years later, it’s not clear that any of the clinics have been punished or shut down.

“Will life get harder for some of these clinics?” Hoffman asked. “The jury is out on that.”

China’s catching up
Stem cell publications by country (2008)

China: 1,116
USA: 6,008
Germany: 1,652
Japan: 1,460
UK: 1,308

Source: “Cultivating regenerative medicine innovation in China,” by Dominique S. McMahon, Halla Thorsteinsdóttir, Peter A. Singer and Abdallah S Daar.


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