Danger found in new, unproven stem cell treatments

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning after a dozen people were hospitalized with bacterial infections following unapproved stem cell treatments. Seven of those patients were infected in Texas.

The patients were hospitalized for weeks after the injections they received were contaminated with E. coli and other bacteria, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials with the FDA said it is "focusing more resources on enforcement when we see companies skirt safety measures and put patients at risk."

There is a booming network of direct-to-consumer clinics that promote and administer stem cell therapies for unapproved and unproven use, such as treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes.

Stem cell treatments are only widely accepted to treat blood disorders like leukemia, some anemia and some burn cases.

If you are considering stem cell therapy, Consumer Reports offers safety tips to help determine if the treatment is legitimate. For starters, beware of big price tags.

"Clinical trials for stem cells usually don't have flashy advertisements, don't promise to be a cure-all and shouldn't cost you big bucks," said Consumer Reports health editor Lauren Friedman.

Don't just settle for patient reviews.

"A doctor working with stem cells should be able to tell you where they're from, what was done to them before being available for injection and exactly how they'll help you," Friedman said. 

Make sure to read the fine print. If the stem cell treatment you're considering is a clinical trial, make sure the FDA has given it a green light as an Investigative New Drug Application, or IND. The FDA advises patients to ask to see the approval letter to make sure it has been issued for the treatment under consideration.  

Health officials stress there are safety risks even if your own stem cells are used in treatment. Those risks include the failure of cells to work as expected and the possibility of tumors. 

If your stem cells are manipulated after being removed, there's a risk of contamination and infection.

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.