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Stem cell misconceptions – therapy

I’d like to start a new series entitled “Stem cell misconceptions”. I’ll highlight some important, currently misleading opinions and misconceptions in the stem cell research and cell therapy field. Please note, that this series will solely reflect my humble opinion (except possible guest posts). Also, this series will reflect a current opinion, which could change in future as science will progress. I’d like to welcome you very much for commenting and discussion. Today is the first part – therapy.

1. Clinical readiness – stem cell therapies are ready now!
There is a very strong public opinion that cell therapies based on stem or progenitor cells are ready for clinical application now. The reality is that the success of experimental (on animals) proof-of-concept studies and a number of clinical trials have very weak or no correlation with clinical readiness and possibility of wide use approval.

2. Advertised stem cell therapy is a real stem cell therapy
The public believes that if “clinic X” advertises “stem cell therapies”, it’s really stem cell therapy. The reality is that the vast majority of “stem cell therapy” claims have no relevance whatsoever to real stem cells. The advertisers use patient vulnerability and exploit the “stem cell label” for deceptive marketing [1]. Unfortunately, many medical professionals widely have adopted the same lexicon.

3. There are many diseases, which could be treated by stem cells
The public believes that many conditions could be treated by stem cells. The reality is that all indications for current clinical stem cell therapeutic applications is limited by one field – hematology. There are something around 70-80 hematological diseases where hematopoietic stem cells could really provide a cure. Many of these conditions are very rare. So, that there is a variety of diseases, which could be treated by stem cells right now, is a delusion. The great potential of treating many diseases by stem cells in the future, currently is nothing more than a speculation. We need many years to clarify it. I’d optimistically predict, that many diseases will be treated (cured or managed) by any kind of therapeutic cells, but not just stem cells.

4. Stem cells the only cells which could cure (eradicate) disease
Some people believe that in cell therapy only stem cells could deliver a cure. Or if we have a case of cured patient, more likely it happened because of stem cells. The reality is that other cell types could deliver a cure. More than that, even in hematology, we can see some cases or disease eradication after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation procedures mediated by T-cell-induced graft-versus-leukemia effect [2], but not just by stem cells. There are number of cases (anecdotes) and observations within the trials, in which patients with malignancies were cured by T-cells. Also, if physicians administer a mixture of cells, like total bone marrow or cord blood mononuclear fraction, they frequently have no idea which cells from the mix cause therapeutic effect and cured a patient. I’d conclude that the value of “non-stem cell therapy” is significantly underestimated.

5. Any cell therapy = stem cell therapy
This is a very common misconception in the public. Of course cell therapy is not always equal stem cell therapy. It could be, but only in some rare cases. Most of cell therapies and regenerative medicine what mass media told us about, have nothing to do with stem cells. Remember some headlines? Stem cells treat wrinkles [3], stem cells treat skin burns [4] – that’s what the public is absorbing like a sponge. The only stem cell therapy available now is transplantation of bone marrow, mobilized blood or cord blood in hematology.

PS: If you would like to write about current “stem cell misconceptions”, please let me know.