Stem cell therapy a cure-all? Not so fast

By Kathlyn dela Cruz,

Posted at Oct 30 2012 10:13 PM | Updated as of Oct 31 2012 06:13 AM

MANILA, Philippines – It’s supposed to cure various illnesses such as cancer, spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease. Is stem cell therapy the cure-all that it is touted to be?

Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa said it is important to note that stem cell treatments are still at the experimental stage.

"The advisory is very clear. This is still an investigative form of therapy. Anecdotal reports are not enough evidence to say there is treatment,” he said in an interview on ANC's Talkback with Tina Palma.

He said there are only two standard stem cell therapies considered effective and acceptable to the medical community.

"To date, I can only name two cases that are considered standard therapy. That is bone marrow transplantation--one for severe cancer, blood cancer and the other one is bone marrow transplantation after chemotherapy for any type of cancer,” he said.

Herbosa said the Department of Health cannot confirm yet if stem cell treatment is indeed effective against certain diseases.

Dr. Tranquilino Elicaño Jr., an oncologist who availed of the treatment in April in Frankfurt, Germany, said stem cell therapy cured his high blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol and uric acid.

He had 12 injections of cells, which came from lambs.

“After a month, I had my blood tests. Everything went down to normal,” Elicaño said.

Elicaño also said he is not taking medication anymore because he has regained his health.

Anecdotal case

Dr. Michelle de Vera, deputy director of the Institute of Personalized Molecular Medicine at The Medical City, said that while Elicaño’s illnesses seem to have been cured, his is still an anecdotal case.

"There's not a whole lot of people with the same kinds of illnesses that are treated with the same kind of treatment. It cannot be generalized yet," she said.

She said out of the 350 patients who underwent stem cell therapy at The Medical City, they had no records of any patient whose condition worsened.

She said some patients did not get any better despite the treatment.

"People have to be very careful in claiming," de Vera added.

Herbosa also clarified that having a younger skin after the therapy is just a side effect, and is not the treatment's main purpose.

Role of media

Herbosa said the media played a role in the sudden popularity of stem cell treatment.

"You have popularized it beyond what the knowledge can actually support," he said.

"It may have side effects that are not yet known."

He said the health department is not regulating the proliferation of stem cell treatment facilities but urged the public to listen to official advisories.

"We won't regulate but we'll make a research protocol, validate it scientifically."

De Vera also said that each case has to be documented and they would have to determine which laboratories are capable of providing the treatment.