Imagine you are suffering from a chronic and debilitating condition. A friend recommends you look into regenerative medicine. Having never heard of it, you go online in hopes of finding answers to your questions. Do you think you would walk away with some definitive information? If so, think again.
The debate over the safety and efficacy of regenerative medicine continues unabated. It is such a heated debate in some circles that participants are unable to discuss things with any measure of civility. That is unfortunate because legitimate science has already made huge strides in regenerative medicine, particularly where stem cells are concerned.
Unfortunately, the regenerative medicine debate has left far too many people wondering who is right and who is wrong. Equally unfortunate is the fact the answer depends on the question being asked. There is more to the debate than simply discussing three patients in South Florida who were harmed by ill-advised stem cell injections.
The first thing that comes to mind are those regulations that currently determined how regenerative medicine can be employed. Despite what you may have read online, stem cell procedures are regulated. And if they follow current regulations, they are also approved by default.
As the law currently stands, doctors are allowed to extract autologous tissue, process it to concentrate stem cells, and then inject those stem cells back into the same patient. They can do so without any further approval from the FDA. That is why doctors can legally perform autologous stem cell treatments on patients suffering from things like osteoarthritis and sports injuries.
To say that all stem cell treatments are approved based on this model is disingenuous. Treatments that stretch the rules even by a millimeter are no longer compliant or approved. Likewise, lumping all stem cell treatments into the ‘unapproved’ and ‘unregulated’ categories is equally disingenuous.
The next thing that comes to mind is anecdotal evidence. We hear an awful lot about stem cell treatments that have gone wrong. This is not by accident. Negative news always gets more attention than positive news, so media outlets are more likely to focus on it.
It is true that some people have been harmed by procedures performed outside of regulatory standards. It is also true that some people have been treated properly and still not seen the desired results. Yet there is also plenty of anecdotal evidence from patients whose treatments turned out successfully.
If the anecdotal evidence on one side carries enough weight to prove the point, the same must be true on the other side. So why don’t we look at the total of that anecdotal evidence and see what we come up with?
One final item in the debate relates to procedural standards. In other words, when a doctor trains with an organization like the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute, he or she learns the latest standards for administering stem cell and PRP treatments. But does a doctor have to be trained in order to offer regenerative medicine? No.
This conflict by no means suggests that the majority of regenerative medicine practitioners are untrained. Nor does it mean the opposite. The fact is that we don’t know how many have actually undergone training. So making blanket statements isn’t fair.
The truth is that both sides make valid arguments in the debate. But both sides also ignore the other. If we are ever to find an answer, the two sides have to find some common ground and start working on a productive way to figure it all out. Otherwise we may never know.