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Stem Cell Therapy, Buyer Beware

Worried about quack treatments with stem cells? Take a look at the website of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.  It posted a set of guidelines and tips today—just part of the growing number of guidelines intended to improve the quality of stem cell science.

The publications include an appendix directed at the general public: Patient Handbook on Stem Cell Therapies. ISSCR officials have pointed out in the past that they simply can't track all the questionable operators in the stem cell world. So instead, they're hoping to educate consumers on some principles to help judge claims. The eight page document warns, for example, that stem cell therapies are all unproven with the exception of some for blood disorders, and regeneration of skin and cornea. It also explains what should be in an informed consent form.

The main text concerns quality control for scientists. It contains general recommendations on animal testing and human trials to assist investigators seeking to develop treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Academies has been regularly updating standards for research on human embryonic stem cells. Strictures originally designed to apply to pluripotent cells derived from human embryos, for example, now also cover pluripotent cells from other sources such as induced pluripotent stem cells.

More guidelines are in the offing: When President-elect Barack Obama rolls back the Bush Administration's restrictions on stem cell research, as he is widely expected to do in the early days of his Administration, the National Institutes of Health will be revamping guidelines that were put on ice at the end of the Clinton presidency.