Costa Rica clamps down on dodgy stem cell treatments

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Costa Rica has put an end to stem cell tourism, saying there's no evidence that the treatments work or are even safe.

Using stem cells from bone marrow, umbilical cords and other sources, Costa Rican clinics have been claiming to offer cures for injuries and degenerative diseases.

There is little - if any - evidence that these treatments work, and they have not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

But the Costa Rican Health Ministry has now closed down the country's largest stem cell treatment clinic. The Institute of Cellular Medicine claims to have treated about 400 patients, mostly from the US, for conditions including multiple sclerosis, arthritis and spinal injuries.

Patients paid up to $30,000 for treatment.

While adult stem cells are a proven treatment for a small number of blood and immune system disorders, there's no evidence that they affect these conditions which the clinic was claiming to treat.

"If [stem cell treatment's] efficiency and safety has not been proven, we don't believe it should be used," Dr Ileana Herrera, chief of the ministry's research council, told Reuter. "As a health ministry, we must always protect the human being."

Similar clinics operate in many other countries, including Thailand, China and Russia.