The Spinal Cord Society of India has warned doctors against offering stem cell therapy to spinal cord injury (SCI) patients.
In a statement published in the European Spine Journal, the expert body said that though there exists sufficient pre-clinical evidence in support of the safety and potency of cell-based interventions, the same is not able to be translated robustly at clinical level.
“In the current scenario, any cellular intervention for SCI in humans is speculative and not proven. Thus, any offer of cellular interventions as ‘therapy’ with commercial implications is unethical,” the society has said.
This kind of injury, mostly caused due to fall from height or in road traffic accident, is a devastating ailment. It causes impairment of limb movement among others and, experts say, there is no established therapeutic intervention capable of restoring significant neurological function.
“Stem cell therapy has the potential to repair and regenerate the spinal cord nerves damaged in an injury. But it hasn’t been proven yet. Research in this field is mostly at experimental stage,” said Dr H S Chabra, chief of Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC).
Nevertheless, he added, many centres have sprung up in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai that are using stem cell therapy to treat SCI. “Short of alternatives, many patients spend lakhs on the therapy. The failure to get any significant improvement makes them depressed and uninterested in conventional treatment even,” the ISIC director said.
He is the primary contributor to the position statement published in the European journal. Other authors include Geeta Jotwani from the Indian Council of Medical Research, Gourie Devi from Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, S L Yadav from AIIMS and Susan Charlifue from Craig hospital in USA.
The experts have opined that to stop the malpractice of marketing such ‘unproven’ therapies to a vulnerable population, it is crucial that all countries unite to form common, well-defined regulations or legislation on their use in SCI cases. Stem cell-based transplantation has been accepted as a standard therapy only in case of leukemia, burns and corneal regeneration. Other than these indications, stem cell interventions are still under trial, say experts.
Stem cell therapy emerged as a big thing in India after one private clinic based in south Delhi claimed to have successfully treated former Chattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, who was paralysed completely in a road accident in 2004.
Many centres provide stem cell therapy in the name of research or treatment and charge between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4 lakh for a single shot of stem cell.