Exploring the Growing Popularity of Stem Cell Clinics

Louis A. Cona, MD
Updated on
Jan 9, 2023
8

minute read

In this blog article, we'll explore the growing popularity of stem cell clinics in South America, Central America, and Japan, the regulatory status, and the risks associated with unregluated stem cell clinics.

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Stem cells are the foundation cells of the human body, responsible for the growth and repair of tissues and organs. As a result, stem cell therapies have become increasingly popular recently, with numerous stem cell clinics popping up worldwide.

In this blog article, we'll explore the growing popularity of stem cell clinics in South America, Central America, and Japan, the regulatory status, and the risks associated with unregluated stem cell clinics. We'll also look at the stem cell therapy procedure, the cost of stem cell therapy in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, and the benefits of medical regulation.

Before we dive into the article, it's important to note that stem cell therapy is still relatively unique and is not authorized by the FDA unless the protocol operates within a clinical study. Therefore, it is essential to research and speak with a qualified healthcare professional before considering any form of stem cell therapy.


What are Stem Cell Clinics?

Stem cell clinics are medical clinics that specialize in the use of stem cells for therapeutic and regenerative treatments. They are typically found in countries worldwide but have become increasingly popular in South America, the Caribbean, and even Europe in recent years. The clinics offer a variety of treatments, including treatments for various types of cancer, degenerative diseases, spinal cord injuries, heart diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and more. The treatments are typically performed using either regenerative medicine or regenerative therapies. 

Regenerative medicine involves using stem cells to repair damaged tissues and organs, while regenerative therapies use a combination of different treatments, such as physical therapy, to stimulate the body's natural healing process.


Overview of Stem Cell Clinics in South and Central America

Several stem cell clinics in South and Central America offer treatments for various medical conditions. These clinics are typically found in larger cities, such as Mexico City, Bogota, Lima, and Santiago. In Mexico, the clinics are usually associated with larger hospitals and medical centers, while in other countries, the clinics are often independent. The treatments offered at the clinics vary depending on the condition being treated, but they generally involve stem cell injections or stem cell transplants.


Regulatory Status of Stem Cell Clinics

The regulatory status of stem cell clinics in South America varies from country to country. As stated by the ISCT (International Society for Cell and Gene Therapy), Mexico has a thriving stem cell industry but still needs to implement formal regulations on stem cell research. Indeed, some Mexican doctors are already using stem cells to treat chronically ill foreigners, including Americans, who suffer from conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, and paralysis. Some have criticized these unregulated therapies in the international medical community. (1)

However, it is essential to determine stem cell and protocol quality:

  1. Is the cell expansion process regulated? 
  2. What sort of guidelines does the lab follow? 
  3. Has the protocol been independently reviewed by a third party (IRB-reviewed) to ensure safety? 
  4. Is the stem cell product manufactured under GMP conditions?


Stem Cell Therapy in Costa Rica

The new regulations provide a comprehensive framework concerning setting up clinical trials involving adult stem cells. As a fundamental basis, the rules have stated that clinical tests utilizing embryos or embryonic stem cells are strictly prohibited. 

Furthermore, they have clarified that clinical research of adult stem cells that have experienced more than minimal manipulation is subject to the same regulations applicable to pharmaceuticals, comprising conformance with preclinical studies and clinical trials of phases I to IV. 

On top of the requirements to gain authorization for a clinical trial in compliance with the Biomedical Research Act, Law No. 9234, and Regulations Nos. 39061-S, the new regulations have also determined that clinical investigation of adult stem cells should mainly focus on patients who lack other therapeutic alternatives, broadening the extent of people who do not meet this criterion.


Risks Associated with Stem Cell Clinics

Clinics providing treatments not supported by evidence often escape regulation, exploit legal loopholes, or even break existing regulations. Most of these treatments are administered in countries with low- and middle-income economies (e.g., India, Costa Rica, Mexico, Columbia & Panama) due to the convenience of international travel and globalization, allowing people to bypass local prohibitions. The growing reliance on these untested stem cell therapies necessitates a universal consensus amongst national and international organizations regarding the commercialization of medical treatments and products.

In some nations, regulations have been established in an effort to reduce the prevalence of stem cell tourism, yet they often leave room for varied interpretations, which clinics can exploit to provide untested and hazardous treatments to patients. 


Is stem cell therapy FDA-approved?

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the regulation of stem cell products. To bypass the rigid approval process required by the FDA, some clinics have labeled their stem cell therapies as human cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) instead of biological drugs since HCT/Ps that have been slightly altered and meant for analogous use are not subject to FDA regulations. This ambiguous language produced an opportunity for US facilities to utilize in the early 2000s. In 2014, the FDA updated its regulations by clarifying the definitions of the terms' minimal manipulation' and 'homologous use' to decrease the areas of ambiguity that arose within the law. (2)


Lack of Harmonious Regulation

Another challenge concerning legislation is the need for a unified regulatory framework across different countries. This inconsistency in the legal requirements for codes of conduct, practice or ethics, as well as the enforcement of disciplinary action, permits clinics to evade regulatory supervision. The worry is that these variations in regulations give rise to a situation where clinics can seek out the most lenient regulatory environment. For example, in Japan, if initial clinical trials reveal evidence of safety and efficacy, clinics can advertise regenerative medicine treatments for up to seven years without demonstrating ongoing treatment efficiency. This approach aims to rapidly commercialize stem cell products to attract future investments in the field of regenerative medicine. This has resulted in an international research market where clinics can move their operations or clinical trials to less-regulated jurisdictions. (2)

It is essential to research the clinic before considering any form of stem cell therapy and to speak with a qualified healthcare professional.


The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia & Mexico

The cost of stem cell therapy in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia & Mexico varies depending on the type of treatment being performed and the clinic being used. Generally, stem cell treatments in Mexico are cheaper than in other countries due to reduced labor costs, cell quality, and regulation. However, stem cell treatments in Costa Rica and Panama may be more expensive due to the increased cost of medical operations in those areas. These costs can range anywhere from $8,000 - $35,000.


Benefits of Medical Regulation

Medical regulation ensures that stem cell clinics use the latest technologies and treatments. It also ensures that the treatments are safe and effective and meet specific quality standards. Additionally, medical regulation can reduce the risk of side effects associated with stem cell therapies.


What to Consider Before Getting Stem Cell Therapy

Before considering any form of stem cell therapy, it is essential to research the clinic and speak with a qualified healthcare professional. It is also important to understand the potential risks associated with the treatment and to discuss any possible side effects with the doctor. Additionally, it is crucial to be aware of the treatment's cost and determine if it is a realistic option for you.


Conclusion

Stem cell clinics are becoming increasingly popular in South America, with many clinics offering treatments for various medical conditions. The regulatory status of stem cell clinics varies from country to country, and there are risks associated with stem cell treatments in Mexico due to a lack of QA assurance regulation. Researching the clinic and speaking with a qualified healthcare professional before considering any form of stem cell therapy is essential. 

Additionally, it is essential to understand the treatment's cost and determine if it is a realistic option for you. Ultimately, it is necessary to remember that stem cell therapy is still relatively new and has yet to be approved in many countries. Therefore, it is essential to research and speak with a qualified healthcare professional before considering any form of stem cell therapy.

If you are considering stem cell therapy, it is essential to do your research and speak with a qualified healthcare professional before making a decision. 


References: 

(1) The Mexican National Legislation Concerning Human Reproductive and ... (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.isct-cytotherapy.org/article/S1465-3249(14)00210-2/fulltext

(2) Lyons, S. (n.d.). International stem cell tourism: a critical literature review and evidence-based recommendations. Academic.oup.com. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/inthealth/article/14/2/132/6355401

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