Scientists raise awareness of unregulated stem cell treatments for respiratory diseases

Stem cell medical tourism and unproven stem cell interventions are growing and concerning issues for patients afflicted with lung disease

Go to the profile of Elena Conroy
Aug 18, 2016

Stem cell tourism is becoming a global problem with more and more unregulated clinics preying on desperate patients with incurable diseases. According to an editorial authored by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (MA, USA), there are an increasing number of clinics worldwide offering expensive stem cell-based therapies that are ineffective or have no proven benefit to patients with respiratory diseases. The article was recently published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

The prevalence of such unregulated clinics in the USA was reasonably well known. Online-advertised ‘stem cell tourism’ was generally considered to mainly take place in countries in South East Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe, however, a study by Berger et al and other recent studies (such as into clinics in Japan and the USA) are disproving this theory.

"Remarkably, an increasing number of these clinics now operate within the United States. It is imperative that scientific and medical societies, as well as professional respiratory disease and critical care communities speak out forcefully against stem cell tourism," commented lead author Laertis Ikonomou, assistant professor of Molecular and Translational Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

According to Ikonomou, perceptions of stem cell-based therapies can be significantly different between experts and the general public, which includes patients. While experts evaluate therapies based on demonstrations of safety and efficacy, many patients are motivated by hope and the desperate need for a cure.

The authors discuss several factors that exacerbate these perceptions, including aggressive and unscrupulous advertisement of unproven stem cell therapies, uncritical and overly optimistic portrayal of stem cell clinical translation in mainstream media, use of selected and uncontrolled patient testimonials to suggest benefit and reluctance of experts to speak-out against stem cell medical tourism due to fears of litigation and political backlash.

"The problem of stem cell medical tourism of unproven, unregulated cell therapies can be best tackled through international collaboration, and engagement and education of all parties including patients, physicians and other caregivers and scientists," explained Ikonomou. "We can turn the tide on this global health problem by vigorously implementing a multi-pronged strategy that combines continuous education of the public, pressure for effective regulations and rigorous research in the field of lung regenerative medicine."


Ikonomou L, Darcy RJ, Wagner E et al. The Global Emergence of Unregulated Stem Cell Treatments for Respiratory Diseases. Professional Societies Need to Act. Annals of the American Thoracic Society. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201604-277ED (2016) (Online before print);

Berger I, Ahmad A, Bansal A, Kapoor T, Sipp D, Rasko JE. Globaldistribution of businesses marketing stem cell-based interventions. Cell Stem Cell 19(2), 158–1562 (2016)

Go to the profile of Elena Conroy

Elena Conroy

Contributor, Future Science Group

If you have any interest in submitting to the journal Regenerative Medicine or have any queries, please don't hesitate to contact my colleague Adam, Commissioning Editor of the journal


Go to the profile of Alexandra Thompson
Alexandra Thompson over 3 years ago

There's an excellent point by BioInformant that there are well-regulated, highly qualified stem cell therapy companies who should not be forgotten amidst or associated with the unregulated ones currently being highlighted