It is alarming that unsubstantiated stem cell-based treatments for Covid-19 are cropping up everywhere. Bioethicist Leigh Turner, of the University of Minnesota, recently flagged stem-cell-based “therapies” in a leading journal, Stem Cell Stem.
Turner worries that users of these so-called treatments for Covid-19 will be harmed by products that haven’t been rigorously tested, or that they’ll forgo measures like physical distancing as they believe the product will shield them from being infected.
He notes a business in Colorado selling mesenchymal stem cell exosomes “for patients that need to boost their immune system” or who want “additional defence against the virus” for US$3,000. Clinics in Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida and Pennsylvania have made similar claims; some advertise stem cell therapies as a preventive step while others claim it can repair damage from Covid-19.
Other companies offer biobanking of one’s own stem cells. “Having a frozen line of one’s own personal mesenchymal stem cells could prove life-saving should someone become a victim of the current viral pandemic,” a clinic in Alabama states. A caveat: Your own stem cells might not assist you. Nothing is guaranteed and the storage fee is very costly.
Stem cells are certainly an interesting path for Covid-19 treatment — but they have not yet proved effective under well-designed and rigorously conducted clinical trials. During this unprecedented crisis, it is ethical to provide people with evidence-based therapies, but not with unproven cures. By making it appear that these stem cell treatments have already