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Rogue stem cell practitioners: calls for regulation to close loopholes

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Scientists are concerned by the number of providers offering unproven stem cell therapies in Australia.

The Australian Academy of Science says there are at least 60 practitioners currently offering dodgy therapies.

The providers claim that their experimental treatments can cure everything from cancer, to autism and Alzheimer's disease.

Imogen Brennan reports.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: Dr Mel Thomson is a scientist at Deakin University's School of Medicine.

She also lives with multiple sclerosis (MS).

When Dr Thomson was diagnosed with the disease in 2014 she let her friends on Facebook know.

But then she was haunted by advertising algorithms and targeted by companies claiming they could cure her MS with stem cell therapy.

MEL THOMSON: That's what really annoyed me the most, when it popped up in my Facebook feed, because I was at a vulnerable time myself.

And when I started digging further they were offering me also a cure for my son's autism.

And I'm like, Oh really? So if I take my son on a stem cell tourism trip I can cure his autism? Oh fabulous. You know, it was just ridiculous.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: The Australian Academy of Science has today released a report warning that unethical practitioners are using a loophole to offer risky therapies to vulnerable patients.

It's found that there are currently at least 60 Australian providers offering unproven procedures.

Professor John Rasko is from the department of cell and molecular therapies at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

JOHN RASKO: There has been an increasing amount of snake-oil salesman, if you will - people preying on those hopes and expectations, expecting that the stem cell revolution is already here and is already providing cures for almost all diseases.

So they're being offered for things like headache, migraine, cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis. And surely everybody knows that there's no one-size-fits-all medication.

The Stem Cell Revolution report says that while some Australians are still travelling overseas for expensive and potentially risky stem cell procedures, more providers are now setting up on Australian soil.

They're even in shopping centres.

JOHN RASKO: Not only can you often go down to shopping centres and find clinics that are offering, for example, cosmetic benefits from stem cells or some other form of stem cells that might help any diverse numbers of diseases, but in addition we've recently completed and audit of the online marketing of stem cells.

So many of these snake-oil salesmen and marketeers have actually gone to the internet in order to try and pedal their wares.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: The Australian Academy of Science has made a number of recommendations in its report.

It wants better regulations to close the loophole that's allowing rogue practitioners to operate.

And it's calling for patients to have better access to clinical trials.

Dr Mel Thomson's multiple sclerosis is now being treated with drugs that block T cell receptors in her brain.

While Australian scientists are excited about the future of stem cell research, Dr Thomson says she's still not considering it for herself.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by ABCNEWS
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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