Today I typed "stem cell treatment spinal cord injury" into Google and got the pink results that I've pasted to the right.
They came at the very top of the 'search results' and they are ads that people paid to have listed. Wow, the researchers can hang up their lab coats because the cure is already here.
On offer from the pink results we have XCell telling us about their "first successes for spinal cord treatment", and LikeCell promising "obvious improvement in 5 weeks". Now some people know why these are not the cures we're looking for but many don't.
People with spinal cord injuries who've been around a bit know why these treatments are not scientifically based, but newly spinal cord injured people who are desperately seeking a cure, and my non-spinal cord injured readers may not know why. Not to bore you, but let me tell you how something becomes a treatment.
Stick with me just a little. I'll give you just a small taste of the process.
First of all when new therapies or things that could lead to new therapies are developed, they are published in peer reviewed journals so that other scientists can try to reproduce them to see if the findings are the same.
They may even be tried in animal models. In stem cell therapies for spinal cord injuries, they've tried it on mice, monkeys, and I even heard about a donkey. Again, these findings are published in peer reviewed journals so that their peers can try to replicate the results.
After some time, when the scientists think that they may benefit humans, an application is made to a government regulatory agency for permission to start phases I to IV of human trials. Now before I bore you about each phase, I'll let you decide whether you want to know about each phase. Go to Wikipedia for a relatively good explanation.
Both examples above haven't done clinical trials for spinal cord injury. Instead they use testimonials. Yes, just like product testimonials that you may see on TV commercial. Patient A can now stand. Patient B has improved sensation in his belly button area. Patient C can get an erection and control his bladder. And so on...
There are no control groups. There is no overall data about the efficacy, and in other examples I have seen, we don't even know exactly what they are using, because they do not let anyone check. Basically people pay to be experimented on. Of course they always write in a disclaimer about it not working on everyone, even though they never tell us what percentage it did work on.
I often wonder if Google would let me run an ad for my 'turning rocks to gold' process. Send me ten kilograms of rocks and I'll send you ten kilograms of gold for just $100. Of course, I would write my disclaimer and I wouldn't let anyone actually see the process. If I sold enough of these, I could fund a lot of real research for spinal cord injury.
On a forum that I often visit which deals with a cure for spinal cord injury called CareCure these so called therapies are hotly debated, but I've ever only seen arguments about bad science, I think there is another thing that needs to be raised, and that's the fact that people PAY for these treatments.
What would happen if one of the non-clinically tested cures were true? Instead of showing us years of data from clinical trials, they show us one person after another walking. What happens then? Would you pay?
I'd like to say no (but I don't know what I'd do). One thing that I am certain of is that if people start paying it will put an end to further government funded research, will guarantee that governments DON'T cover it under public health insurance, and will create a sub class of spinal cord injured people who are poor. This is probably the main point why we shouldn't encourage paying out of pocket for treatments (especially unproven ones).
So now you think I'm crazy? What proof do I have about something like this? Am I going to give you a conspiracy theory now?
No, not crazy, I don't have any conspiracy theories, and I will give you an example that's probably going on in your own country as we speak. It's called ProjectWalk it's an exercise/rehabilitation programme that while not a cure by any means, has proven to be quite effective for spinal cord injury.
It was started in America, but I won't use the example of America since, aside from all the talk of public health insurance, there is no public health insurance in America, and even Mr Obama's plan when fully implemented will not be public health insurance.
ProjectWalk or similar programmes can also be found in Canada, Australia, England, Japan, and Norway; all countries with universal public health insurance, but as far as I can see, despite the great results, it's not covered in any of these countries. People, who can afford it, pay out of pocket, those who can't, sit in their chairs.
No, I'm not blaming any of these ProjectWalks in any of these countries. In fact they take donations to try to keep the costs down, but at $70 an hour in Canada, it's beyond the reach of most. But even though it's a good programme, governments take the position that it's only for those who can afford it.
So remember, the debate over so called 'stem cell tourism' is not only a matter of good versus bad science, it's also a matter of good versus bad public policy. Part of any campaign for a cure for spinal cord injury, must include demands that it is never based on the ability to pay.