AUSTIN - The legal battle to get patients access to stem cell therapy in Texas is a battle KSAT has been following for more than a year.
Gov. Greg Abbott has now signed stem cell therapy bill HB 810 into law. Access to the treatment won't be immediate, but it is finally closer to reality.
It has been 13 years since Dr. Richard Neel was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a chronic inner ear disorder.
"Gradual hearing loss. Recurring bouts of vertigo. The world starts spinning. You can't make it stop," Neel said, describing his symptoms that worsened over a decade.
Traditional medicines weren't working so he took advice from his patient, who'd been getting stem cell therapy for arthritis.
"I was real skeptical at first so I started looking into it, met Dr. Jones at Celltex, met a lot of patients who've had stem cells," Neel said.
Celltex is a company in Houston that offers stem cell banking services. Patients who have had cells taken out of their body leave their stem cells there to multiply, so they can eventually be injected back into the body for healing and regenerative purposes.
As the law is now, banking stem cells in the U.S. is legal, but after 24 hours it is illegal to put the stem cells back into the body. The new law would allow patients to have the treatment in Texas, as opposed to traveling to other countries to use their own cells as medicine.
"Went down and had my stem cells extracted and banked," Neel said. "Went to Cancun four times."
Neel started feeling positive effects within a week of each treatment.
"Now, over a year after the stem cell treatments, I have not had another episode of vertigo," he said. "The hearing loss hasn't been reversed, but it hasn't progressed either."
It was this success that had Neel following the stem cell therapy bill's progression through the Texas Legislature and hoping for it to pass.
State Sen. Jose Menendez supported the bill for people such as Dr. Neel, and for his own wife, who has multiple sclerosis.
"As soon as they come out with the rules, we'll be in line just like everybody else, but once we've discussed it with our doctor. It has to be under the guide and the informed consent and the direction of a doctor," Menendez said.
He emphasized doctors would be at the forefront of this therapy as it is used in Texas.
"We were very careful not to pass a bill that's going to just allow for people to swoop in from anywhere in the world and try to sell magic cures," he said.
Dr. Neel agrees, but realizes the process will take time.
"There's still politics involved. There's still legality involved. There can be insurance issues. There's still a lot of hurdles," Neel said.
"This is not an automatic," Menendez said. "This is not something that's going to, overnight, change things but it's going to provide hope, and to me shows the state of Texas can put aside partisan bickering and look for things that really will make a change in people's lives."
Patients will still have to leave the U.S. for therapy, while Texas creates new guidelines, but care closer to home is officially on its way.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Texas Medical Board will work together to create those guidelines. Rules will mandate that doctors perform the therapy in an ambulatory center, a hospital or a medical school.
Patients also must have a chronic disease or a terminal illness, for which a doctor has exhausted all other options.
Any and all other rules and regulations are still to be announced.
Celltex Therapeutics CEO and Chairman David Eller released a statement after the bill's passage saying:
Celltex has been actively involved with and following HB 810, or Charlie's Law. At this time, there are people in the legal and government fields collaborating to define the legal definition of the bill and how it will affect Celltex stem cell banking and therapy. We expect, within the next few weeks, more information will be forthcoming. As the bill stands today, there are still many questions to be resolved regarding the specific type of stem cell therapy applicable to HB 810. The type of stem cell therapy is not defined. The approval of the House and Senate in Texas is a step in the right direction, but is still far from a law which would allow us to provide high-dose adult stem cell banking and therapy in the United States.
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