Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Medical Science In Thrall To Profit From Human Gullibility

"The entire thing was filled with bloody tissue, and as I started to take pieces, it started to bleed. It was stuck onto the nerves and had an odd consistency. It's hard to know what to call it."
"It was stuck to everything around it. I had never seen anything like it."
Dr. John Chi, director, Neurosurgical Spine Cancer, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston

"I couldn’t accept where I was. A life lying down in bed is not the place to be."
"The consensus was stem cell therapy was going to be the future of treatment for stroke. I read all the cautionary tales even though I didn’t believe them. I thought it would work."
Jim Gass, stroke patient 
Handout photograph -- Jim Gass

"Even though there are probably hundreds of clinics in the U.S., when people go abroad the risk goes way up. In Mexico you can treat someone with stem cells . . . and if you took the same procedure across the border [to the United States], to do it legally, you’d have to get FDA approval."
"This is very risky. It looks exciting that professional football players do it. But these are private clinics and they may be having a lot more complications that are not being disclosed. We don't know whether it’s working or not."
Paul Knoepfler, professor, stem cell research blogger, University of California Davis School of Medicine
Here is a story of a man who had the misfortune to suffer a stroke and the consequences of that stroke were life-altering. At age 66 a man who had no reason not to look toward a meaningful future was suddenly faced with complications he never imagined would disrupt his life. His left arm was no longer of any use to him and he was faced with his left leg in a weakened condition, although he was able to continue living independently. In a manner that just didn't fit into his idea of how to live well.

So he did some diligent research, discovering that there were options available to him, options that others had taken advantage of, some celebrities in the sports world who publicly proclaimed their satisfaction with the outcome. After undergoing stem cell therapy in private clinics outside the United States, Mr. Gass now finds himself in a far more physically compromised state, no longer able to do much of anything, paralyzed from the neck down, but able still to use his right arm.

But if that sounds disastrous there's more, much more to the condition that this man finds himself in. The kind of condition that has the most experienced medical-health professionals in the world puzzled, not knowing how he can be treated to halt a trajectory that is so horribly inimical to his longevity that the end result will certainly be that his condition will progress steadily to the point where life itself will be threatened, and he has no foreseeable future.

What astonished Dr. Chi when he undertook surgery on this man was that a huge mass filled the unfortunate patient's lower spinal column. The mass was comprised of abnormal, primitive cells, growing exponentially. And tests showed that the cells were not his own, they had been harvested from someone entirely other than Mr. Gass.  This resulted from Mr. Gass travelling abroad to take advantage of bold new therapies advertised for those who could afford the miracle of renewing their bodily functions.

A proliferation of unregulated clinics with professionally glowing websites promising the world on a silver salver answer the prayers of people whose health has become morbidly problematical. These are unregulated clinics situated in countries that permit their practise, that promise cures, not merely treatments, for chronic diseases and those suffering from conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries and stroke, all of which onsets predict body breakdown and early death. Stem cell injections represent the miracle cure.

Mr. Gass received stem cell therapy at clinics located in Mexico, in China and in Argentina. It cost him tens of thousands for every time he received injections. He ended up paying out $300,000 in total. And he ended up making his already troublesome condition far more dire than it would have been otherwise; incalculably so. What he did not know and what academic researchers do know is that even as stem cell therapy holds promise for the future, with proper development and understanding of the process, it is capable of rapid division, forming tumors and acquiring mutations similar to those seen in cancer cells.

According to Dr. Jaime Imitola, a stem cell researcher out of Ohio State University, the story behind Mr. Gass's transformation from a man with livable incapacitation to one totally devoid of any hope for the future represents a cautionary lesson; Mr. Gass, he stated: "puts a human face to a tragedy", where other patients can be advised to look to the experience that befell this man and say to themselves: "Oh my God, that could be me".

Mr. Gass had reached out to a company called Stemedica to obtain information about stem cell therapy obtainable in Kazakhstan. He decided not to travel to Kazakhstan, and opted instead to travel to a clinic in Mexico. Through the course of his experience, he sought treatment from one clinic then another and in Mexico received stem cell injections from cells that had been shipped from Russia. His walking ability improved after six months. And then declined until another injection. After which "I started to lose my ability to walk", he said.

In Thailand, on vacation, doctors in a hospital there attempted a spinal tap to discern what the problem was. In the event, Mr. Gass was informed that something was dreadfully awry, with no spinal fluid present, to be tapped. When Mr. Gass returned to the United States, doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital had him undergo a magnetic resonance imaging scan of his spine, revealing the presence of the mass that Dr. Chi had been so startled to see the actual extent of.

At that point the problem became how to manage the mass, to stop it from growing? If they had been facing the presence of an infection, antibiotics would be used; with cancer, drugs could target the growth. In the end, doctors determined radiation was worth a try, and it did appear to slow down the growth of the mass. However, another more recent scan revealed that the mass was once again growing.

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