Giving hope: The promise of stem cell therapy

by Jon Carlos Rodriguez, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 26 2013 11:37 PM | Updated as of Jun 27 2013 08:21 AM

MANILA - As stem cell treatment begins to gain traction among Filipinos, a surgeon believes the country is now entering a new phase in medicine.

Dr. Levi John Lansangan, one of the founding members of the Philippine Stem Cell Society, said there is much promise in stem cell therapy because of the hope it gives to ailing patients.

"Before it was only physiologic, then it became pathologic, which deals with diseases. Then it became pharmacologic, wherein we give medicine. But now it is regenerative, wherein the body heals by itself," Lansangan told ANC's "Prime Time" on Wednesday.

Stem cell treatment involves harvesting stem cells, processing them, and injecting them back to the body.

Lansangan said the autologous treatment, which harvests stem cells from the patient’s own system, is the safest type of stem cell procedure.

The procedure may last for up to 4 hours, depending on the patient’s health. It may cost up to P1.6 million.

Stem cell treatment is believed to have the potential to cure illnesses including diabetes, heart ailments, brain damage such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, stroke, baldness and even sports injuries.

“The hardest thing to say to a patient is hopelessness. If you say there is no hope for the disease, it is very unacceptable for the patient. But with stem cell, we’re giving hope. Not hope in the sense that we are just giving placebo but hope that there is really something into it that’s really big,” Lansangan said.

But Lansangan warned that there are also risks involved in the process, particularly if stem cells are derived from animals such as rabbits and black sheep.

“There are a lot of sources for stem cell. But the only stem cell sources approved by the DOH [Department of Health] come from the bone marrow, fats and blood of the patient itself. We don’t recognize xenograph, or from animals. That is where the problem lies,” he said.

Foreign doctors

Lansangan said there have also been reports of foreign doctors doing the procedure in hotel rooms across the country.

“Foreign doctors are not allowed to practice in our country. Doing it in hotels, in unsanitary conditions, is very prone to infection. It is against the regulations posted by the DOH in its website,” he said.

Stem cell treatment conducted in hotels and unlicensed clinics usually derive stem cells from animals, and costs around P500,000.

Lansangan said he understands why some Filipinos choose to patronize these foreign doctors: the perception that foreigners are more efficient and the cheaper fee.

But he believes that if more Filipino doctors practice stem cell treatment, the cost will eventually be more affordable.

“I believe it will go down. There is a big potential in stem cell. We just need a lot of passionate doctors to bring it down…If the doctors pledge to help humanity, it is always to bring down the prices, not to jack it up. We are not businessmen,” he said.

Stem cell treatment in Germany

Lansangan also warned that stem cells from animals may be fatal if the treatment triggers an allergic reaction.

According to Lansangan, xenogenic sources were made popular by a medical center in Dresden, Germany.

“The problem with stem cells is that it is a very fragile and volatile cell and I don’t think they can preserve it through these vials that they introduce,” he said.

The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) earlier said it is investigating the deaths of 3 politicians who died allegedly after undergoing stem cell treatment in Germany.

On Monday, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte named 2 congressmen who may have died after having stem cell therapy overseas -- Rep. Erico Aumentado and Rep. Pedro Romualdo.

Aumentado's son Aristotle disputed this, saying his father died of pneumonia.

He added there is also no proof that stem cell caused his father’s death.