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The website of Panama’s Stem Cell Institute features glowing testimonials from former patients, and praise from Hollywood stars.
In one story, parents describe how their autistic daughters’ symptoms faded after a $15,000 treatment. She was, they said, newly able to play with other children and thrived at school.
“We couldn’t be happier as parents we are so proud of her and so thankful to the stem cell institute in Panama for making this possible,” they write.
The institute has influential backers. Its website features a Spotify podcast fronted by Joe Rogan in which founder Neil Riordan is interviewed alongside his friend, Hollywood star Mel Gibson.
On his Facebook page, there are pictures of Riordan with celebrities like Instagram star Dan Bilzerian, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, Home Depot billionaire Bernie Marcus, and the actor Josh Brolin.
The Panama clinic is the best-known of hundreds — located from Latin America to Ukraine — offering stem cells as a panacea for a range of conditions, often for large prices.
Some exploit lax local regulations over the use of stem cells, allowing them to be used for conditions where evidence of the effectiveness is weak, according to a study published in respected periodical The Bone and Joint Journal.
Hundreds of loosely monitored clinics have also emerged in the US in recent years, the healthcare website Stat News has reported.
Experts are increasingly concerned about the growth of such clinics, especially their claims to be able to treat autism.
They argue that the effectiveness of stem cells for treating autism is unproven, and note that it is not licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose. The process can also be distressing for autistic children, some say.
Richard Mills, a professor in psychology at the UK’s Bath University, and director of the AT-Autism charity, is among them.
He told Business Insider: “The research on stem cells and autism is incredibly weak. And it’s not an approach we could recommend be considered for autism based on the evidence that exists. That’s the concern that most of us would agree on, that there just isn’t enough evidence.”
Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, in a Scientific American article last year called stem-cell based autism treatments “unproven,” and criticized media outlets which hyped the treatment.
Activists have told Business Insider that social media misinformation, spread in large Facebook groups, is fuelling the popularity of stem treatments even where there is little evidence that it works.
Alongside the rumor, misinformation, and speculation, a legitimate study being pursued by scientists at Duke University in North Carolina is also encouraging belief in stem cells as a viable treatment for autism.
While the Duke study and the clinics are two are separate endeavours, critics argue that a symbiosis of sorts has developed between them. They say that parents cite Duke’s research to justify seeking treatment for their children at Riordan’s clinic, while Riordan claims to have played a role in approving a large charitable grant for Duke.
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Source:: Business Insider