Stem-cell therapies have rapidly progressed from science fiction to shopping mall treatments, creating loopholes for unscrupulous practitioners -- and they're targeting Australians.
Worldwide, Australia had the most stem cell clinics per capita marketing their therapies, as shown in a new study by the University of Sydney.
As for stem-cell tourism, the study found international clinics in places like India marketed most to the United States, Ireland, Australia and Germany.
University of Sydney professor John Rasko said that of the 15 treatments most commonly offered, none had a shred of peer-reviewed evidence to suggest they were beneficial.
"These marketeers are praying on false hope, pedaling unproven treatments and unscrupulously targeting people's unmet medical needs," Rasko told HuffPost Australia.
"It's exactly the definition of snake oil."
Rasko said that while some treatments simply did nothing, others were dangerous.
A NSW woman died after receiving an unproven stem cell treatment for Alzheimer's disease in 2013 while there are countless cases of people shunning conventional treatment for HIV/AIDS, cancer and liver disease to put faith in ineffective treatments.
"I hope this is a wake-up call to the regulators," Rasko said.
Clinics have gravitated to Australia because it's one of the few governments that don't consider 'autologous cells' or a patient's own cells to be medical products, so licensed physicians can use them for treatments without many restrictions.
If you see a treatment advertised that's too good to be true, it probably is.Professor John Rasko
Treatments often involve taking fat from the patient's body, processing the cells then injecting them into a joint, the vein or as Rosko said, "in some horrible cases, it's injected into the spinal cord region to purportedly treat stroke, cerebral palsy or Alzheimer's disease".
Rasko said the use of autologous cells was a "loophole" that had to be closed.
"People are paying $5000, $10,000, $15,000 to participate in so-called stem cell therapies and we're only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to very serious complications as a result."
He said that while there were some stem cell therapies that had been proven effective, like treating blood-related cancers, everything else was snake oil.
"We want to raise awareness to the public when you flick through an in-flight magazine and see a treatment advertised that's too good to be true, it probably is."
Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration was expected to release a consultation paper revealing stem cell concerns in the coming months.Suggest a correction