Stem cell therapies: Dangers and opportunities

TORONTO, May 10 /CNW/ - Respected researchers from around the world agree that stem cells therapies hold a great deal of promise for people with spinal cord injuries and related neurological disorders. But how can stem cell therapies be moved forward in an ethical, safe way? Meanwhile, how can desperate patients be discouraged from travelling the world to pursue highly unethical, hugely expensive, and even dangerous treatments, and encouraged to wait for validated and safe therapies?

These are two of the central questions that will be posed to a gathering of some of the world's most respected experts in spinal cord injury stem cell therapies at the Stem Cell Global Blueprint Conference, taking place in Toronto on May 21st and 22nd.

"We know of patients - many of them Canadian - who have travelled to distant countries and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hopes of being cured by an injection of stem cells," says Conference Chair Dr. Michael Fehlings, Krembil Chair in Neural Repair & Regeneration at Toronto Western Hospital, and Professor of Neurosurgery at University of Toronto. "At best, they have gained nothing and have only lost their money. At worst, some patients have undergone unproven, uncontrolled procedures in distant countries and developed tumors or spinal meningitis as a result-losing both their savings and their health."

But Fehlings is quick to point out the tremendous potential of stem cells as a therapy for spinal cord injury. "The evidence for stem cells as a therapy for many health conditions continues to grow," he says. "Consider, for example, Dr. Nicolas Noiseux, the cardiac surgeon at the University of Montreal Hospital Centre who recently made headlines by injecting a patient's own stem cells into his heart to help it heal after bypass surgery. Failing to investigate stem cell therapies in spinal cord injury would be a huge mistake. The challenge is to advance the science in a safe way, through a globally accepted framework for translating laboratory research into human clinical trials and practice."

The goal of the conference, according to Fehlings, is to establish a global dialogue that leads to such a framework. Highly respected experts from China, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, United Kingdom, Sweden, United States, and India are among the presenters and participants.

The conference is sponsored by the Rick Hansen Institute in partnership with the Stem Cell Network, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, Krembil Neuroscience Program, University of Toronto Neuroscience Program, and McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine. For more information, visit www.stemcellglobalblueprint.net.

SOURCE RICK HANSEN INSTITUTE

For further information: For further information: Dr. Fehlings welcomes the opportunity to be interviewed about this international conference. Please contact Dr. Darryl Baptiste at (416) 603-5364 to arrange an interview

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