Efficacy of stem-cell therapy

The Philippine Heart Association (PHA), recognized as one of the biggest and most successful subspecialty associations in the country, conducted an inter-council summit on Stem-Cell Therapy (SCT) on January 25 at the Metrobank Foundation Inc. Hall, Manila Doctors Hospital in Manila to discuss and review evidences on the efficacy of SCT in patients with coronary artery disease and heart failure. Three systematic reviews of SCT in patients with AMI were presented aside from the initial historical review of SCT.

Among the notable speakers were Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-Dela Paz, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health, University of the Philippines, and Prof. Rohan Jayasinghe, Director of Cardiology and Cardiac Services, Gold Coast Health Service District, Australia.

Stem-Cell Therapy (SCT), an intervention strategy for degenerative ailments, introduces new adult stem cells into damaged tissue in order to treat diseases or injuries. The ability of stem cells to renew and give rise to subsequent generations with valuable degrees of differentiation capacities offers significant potential for generation of tissues that can potentially replace diseased and damaged areas in the body, with minimal risk of rejection and side effects.

A number of SCTs exist but most are still at experimental stages, with the notable exception of bone marrow transplant. In the Philippines, SCT has gained popularity following revelations by celebrities and politicians who attest to winning the battle against degenerative diseases, including the signs of aging. Showbiz talent manager Lolit Solit announced on national television last year that she had availed of the very costly stem-cell therapy in a foreign country and claimed that she has been benefiting from its rejuvenating effects. Former President Joseph Estrada, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former Senator Ernesto Maceda admitted to having undergone SCT. Actress Lorna Tolentino underwent SCT in Germany in July 2012 and has claimed to have been healed of scoliosis, vertigo and other ailments.

Actress/politician Alma Moreno claims to have been healed of multiple sclerosis, diabetes and hypertension after years of suffering the debilitating diseases. Albert Martinez claims it cleared his wife Liezl Martinez of breast cancer.  Popular hairstylist Ricky Reyes claims it cured his arthritis and that he started to feel young at heart again.

Medical pathologists however say that said reports of showbiz personalities and politicians who have undergone stem-cell therapy are mostly for aesthetic reasons and not for cure of serious illnesses.

There are only five registered SCT centers in the Philippines: Makati Medical Center, National Kidney Institute, Medical City, Lung Center and St. Luke’s Medical Center.  Medical experts warn against unregistered and incompetent medical centers who promise to cure people of serious illnesses.

Despite some testimonials by health authorities and patients about its being a research marvel, there are apprehensions among health experts about its safety and efficacy, and opposition from social, religious and political groups due to the use of human embryonic stem cells. Amid the proliferation of SCT as a treatment modality done in hospitals and cosmetic surgery centers, the public has been warned about receiving cell preparations offered in the Philippines and elsewhere, such as embryonic, aborted fetus, genetically altered and especially animal stem cells. According to some health experts, the only safe and effectual three sources of stem cells are: the human peripheral blood, human umbilical cord and the human bone marrow.

However, there is no evidence yet in which diseases and conditions SCT is effective.

One of the more common claims of SCT is its effectiveness on patients with heart disease, and cardiologists all over the country are faced with questions from their patients on  the veracity of the claim. Former Senator Maceda said the therapy has “rejuvenated” him and helped him get back his strength.  Maceda underwent coronary (heart) surgery in the U.S. in 1996.

After its January 25 summit, the Philippine Heart Association  issued a draft statement on the use of SCT in patients with heart disease, to wit:

“The PHA reviewed all the evidences regarding the effects of Stem-Cell Therapy (SCT) in patients with heart disease. The data showed that it has no effect in mortality and morbidity and has modest effect on heart functions.

Although this is promising, we, the PHA, cannot recommend its routine use in patients with heart disease.”

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