Stem cell “therapy” for autism in the Philippines?

23 Jul

One would think so from the title of the story in a Philippine website: “ Stem Cell Therapy: Cure For Autism?” I worried, has another overseas location started in the stem cell “therapy ” businesses?

Apparently not. The story is about a Philippine family, but the Clinic is in Germany and the stem cells are fetal lamb cells.

Let’s start with a statement from the end of the story :

Unless you’re a mother, and you’ve searched high and low for treatments for your child, there’s nothing to lose, really. Yes, it’s quite costly but what parent would not do that for their child

There’s nothing to lose. It’s so sad to see it in black and white like that. Of course one must be cautious not to assume this means she feels her children is “nothing to lose”, but instead is saying that she feels that there is no chance of something going wrong. Either way, such statements should not be put in print.

Is it really “stem cell” therapy? They are calling it “fresh cell” therapy.

Ethan underwent what is called Fresh Cell Therapy, a biological treatment by which specially selected fresh or live cells or cell extracts of donor animals, usually sheep, are injected into the human body for treatment of various ailments or rejuvenation purpose.

The procedure uses fresh cells from the fetus of a lamb and takes not more than three hours from harvesting to production to injection of the cells to the patient. All procedures are done in their clinic in Germany.

They seem to be rebranding their “fresh cell” idea to capitalize on the publicity around stem cell research.

The story could form the basis for a thousand words essay by one of the skeptic bloggers.

Unlike autologous stem cell transplant, in which blood-forming stem cells are removed, stored, and later given back to the same person, fresh cell therapy is non-invasive and is only injected to the body.

It’s “non invasive”, it just involves injecting fetal lamb cells into the body.

The story continues with standard alternative medicine themes: they can’t wait for proof, a large percentage (but never too high) report benefit, benefits can be seen quickly but long term therapy is needed (5-10 years of expensive therapy).

This story is filled with red flags that make such stories frightening. And all the hooks of false hope that are sure to pull in some more families.

By Matt Carey

10 Responses to “Stem cell “therapy” for autism in the Philippines?”

  1. Rebecca Fisher July 23, 2012 at 08:26 #

    So injecting lamb foetus cells directly into the body is OK, but anti-vaxers kick up a stink about cell lines originally derived from human foetus cells being used in the production of, but not actually in some vaccines?


    Yes, that makes perfect sense, clearly.

  2. Autismum July 23, 2012 at 14:07 #

    Cells taken from lamb foetuses have been used as anti-ageing treatments (I believe Debbie Harry was a fan). Needless to say, the treatments are ineffective. I wrote a short series about a stem cells with one part about a clinic in Germany, the X-Cell centre. Essesntially, they were operating on the Burzinsky model: procedures are experimental but participants have to pay huge amounts of money to be guinea pigs. It took a child to suffer severe brain damage and another to die before this hell hole got closed down.

    • lilady July 23, 2012 at 16:00 #

      There actually was a top banner ad recently on one of the “notorious anti-vaccine websites” for human stem cell treatment for autism.

      IIRC, the autistic “patient” goes to Arizona, for pre-treatment evaluation and once found to be a “candidate”…and after ponying up $ 30,000 cash upfront…is sent to Panama for human stem cell treatment.

      That same “notorious anti-vaccine website” has a *journalist* who wrote about his experience at an offshore clinic, where he took his daughter for intrathecal infusions of G-d knows what substance, with the hopes of an effective *treatment/cure* for his daughter’s autism.

      • Autismum July 24, 2012 at 12:53 #

        Stem cells and their potential in treating neurodegenerative disease are “my thing” (well, pre-Pwdin anyway). The stuff I hear about stem cell scams terrifies me. I’ve even heard one parent on one of the autism podcasts say something along the lines of “the cells just know where to go and we use hyperbaric oxygen to help them multiply.” It makes me cringe.

  3. Liz Ditz (@lizditz) July 23, 2012 at 22:16 #

    Recently at that blog by moms who are alleged to think, one of the parents had a post about their trip to Panama for cell therapy. Silent Sunday

    • Sullivan July 23, 2012 at 22:22 #

      A comment from a real expert in stem cells and autism was recently in the press, and quoted here:

      Dolmetsch says he also tries to answer questions from other parents who write to him for advice. Because there are so few effective treatments for autism, many parents turn to alternative therapies. In many cases, however, those therapies are ineffective, a waste of money or, even worse, dangerous, Dolmetsch says.

      Recently, he has gotten a lot of e-mails from parents looking to go abroad for mysterious “stem cell therapies,” he says, including treatments in which practitioners offer treatments made with stem cells derived from fat, at a cost of up to $30,000.

      “There are a lot of hucksters,” Dolmetsch says. “They’re springing up everywhere. … In the best case, it’s fraud, because they will put the cells in your body and they will be attacked by the immune system and die. In the worst case, they will cause something terrible, like cancer. … This has to be fraud, because we are not about to put stem cells in anybody’s brain. People are super-desperate. I’m just as desperate as they are.”

    • lilady July 23, 2012 at 23:02 #

      From that same blog…a parent inquiring inquiring about cell therapy and another *treatment/cure* for autism…

      “Please elaborate on STEM CELL TREATMENT.
      I believe this can be helpful.

      I also am interested in ways to boost the microbourne with FECAL TRANSPLANTS.
      Feedback from TMR thinkers would be appreciated.”

  4. McD July 23, 2012 at 23:42 #

    This is just awful. It is just a scam. Pulling it on wealthy ditzes who want to chase eternal youth is one thing, but this trend of expanding existing scams into the autism bio-med market is just disgusting. I am in tears just thinking about it now. I am so so glad I was not diagnosed as a kid. Sometimes I think I would have saved about 15 years of painful adolescence/early adulthood if I had known how I was different, and how to understand people. But my mum did stuff like cancel our medical insurance because she was confident she could treat us all with homeopathy, prayers, and herbs, (the insurance was a sign of lack of faith, so it had to go). I dodged a bullet I am sure.

    Thinking about the numbers of children subjected to restrictive diets and painful, invasive and/or risky “therapies” I can well understand the backlash of many autistics against any sort of therapy at all. Instead of finding the middle ground of evidence-based supports in the best, life-long, interest of the child, the community has polarised.

    Real scientists doing research in this area are warning against leaping in, there is still so much more to learn and a lot of ways to screw up. The stem cell treatment for the Retts mice earlier this year required that they get their brains irradiated – the immune system required total replacement, not “boosting”. The Caltech study on autistic mice also irradiated them to remove the existing immune system. Which means that the premature stem cell “treatments” being foisted on kids, even with human donors, are at best using the ‘control’ procedure that had no effect. Even if the research eventually translates to humans, there is a lot more work to do yet before subjecting kids to invasive and dangerous procedures.

  5. lilady July 24, 2012 at 18:36 #

    This, “Stem Cell Institute” in Arizona is the one I believe, that had a paid top banner advertisement on a “notorious anti-vaccine” website. I noticed the ad and posted about it on the Respectful Insolence science blog…then the ad suddenly “disappeared”.

    So, have your “pick” of treatment options folks; IV infusions of stems cells or the *combination* of IV and intrathecal infusions. You need to schlep your autistic child to Arizona, for an examination, first pony-up the fees (up to $30,000), before you take your child to Panama for the *treatment*.

    • McD July 25, 2012 at 23:06 #

      Thanks for the link lilady,

      crickey – they present one speculative (evidence-free) paper in a pay-to-self-publish journal and some anecdotes as evidence, and use so many weasel words my eyeballs kept slipping off the screen.

      One rationale seems to be that someone else somewhere is doing real research into stem-cell therapy for Crohn’s in humans, (thus capturing the attention of the gut-brain hypothesizers, even though there is no relationship between ASD and Crohns).

      And just to ensure their marketing strategy encompasses those who have money to blow on HBOT, they have tossed in some speculation about improving blood supply to the brain. In spite of all the research into autistic brains identifying a variety of differences but NOT in blood supply. This is just a blatant attempt to poach the lucrative HBOT market demographic.

      The actual stem-cell protocol then resembles the ‘control’ treatment in the study outline I linked to above – that had no effect on symptoms of autism. The underlying mechanisms identified in the actual research on stem-cells and ASD also bore no resemblance to those hypothesized by these “brave doctors”

      (the actual abstract & studies are here and here. Note the key role of radiation to both treatments, and that this aspect is still the focus of ongoing research).

      Hopefully, parents who carefully read the actual research in progress will understand that these shonky treatment providers are just marketing a very poor approximation of a subject of research about which not enough is known yet to consider applications for ASD. They are cashing in of the latest fad and probably attempt to market their therapy for a wide range of unrelated disorders.

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