Medical tourism for MS stem cell therapy is common



– “Stem cell therapy is something that has been a topic of interest for neurologists for a while,” said Wijdan Rai, MD, speaking at the meeting presented by the American Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis.

However, “stem cell tourism is notoriously difficult to study, because it’s not regulated; there’s no database we can access to try to figure out what exactly is going on in these clinics,” said Dr. Rai.

Dr. Rai, a neurology resident at the Ohio State University, Columbus, said that she and her colleagues had noticed patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) were asking more frequently about stem cell therapies, and mesenchymal stem cell therapy in particular.

To translate these anecdotal observations into more concrete data, Dr. Rai and her colleagues surveyed academic neurologists in the outpatient setting to see if their patients were asking them about medical tourism for stem cell therapy. Additionally, they were asked about patients who actually had sought out the therapy and if there were adverse reactions from stem cell therapy.

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The 25-item questionnaire was sent to academic neurologists via an online survey tool called Synapse through the American Academy of Neurology. Dr. Rai and her colleagues found that over 90% of respondents had been asked about stem cell therapies and that 25% of respondents said their patients had some kind of complication from the treatment.

“Most commonly, it was some variation of an infection, like meningitis, encephalitis, or hepatitis C,” said Dr. Rai. Other physicians reported that their patients had spinal cord tumors, deterioration of MS, or stroke.

Dr. Rai said the survey data show that stem cell tourism is common and that patients can experience adverse events; with this evidence in hand, she hopes that a fact sheet can be developed and hosted on a website so physicians can point their patients to evidence-based information about stem cell therapies in MS.

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