Feature Stem cell treatment

Stem cell renegades or pioneers?

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c2041 (Published 05 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2041
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. jgornall{at}mac.com

    An increasing number of centres offer expensive stem cell treatment. But should they simply be dismissed as “rogue clinics,” or can lessons be learnt from their work? Jonathan Gornall reports

    The “before and after” videos seem to show a series of miraculous transformations. Patients in the terminal phase of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—each one, to varying degrees, quadriplegic, unable to swallow or speak, and reliant on mechanical ventilation—seem to regain the ability to talk, swallow, breathe unaided, move limbs and fingers, and even, with support, to walk.

    This is the “show reel” of Dr Haluk Deda, a Turkish neurosurgeon who is setting up shop in Dubai, where he plans to offer autologous stem cell transplants to treat chronic spinal cord injuries and ALS, a condition with no known cure that generally leads to death within three to five years of diagnosis.

    A new transplant technique

    Dr Deda says he developed the transplant technique in Turkey and has carried out 26 procedures. Bone marrow is extracted from the outer edge of the patient’s pelvic girdle and processed in a specialist laboratory to obtain “purified” mononuclear cells. Under general anaesthesia, a laminectomy is performed at the C1-C2 level of the spine to expose the cord, into which the cells are injected at several sites.

    The cost of the procedure, $50 000 (£32 500; €36 800), does not include transport, and most patients with ALS travelling from overseas would have the additional cost of hiring an air ambulance.

    Dr Deda shows the images to local journalists and prospective patients. He says that many of the partial and, he concedes, temporary recoveries have taken place within only days of treatment.

    No advertising needed

    He also projects on to the wall of the conference room in his new offices in Dubai Health Care City some of the hundreds of emails he says he has received …

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