Spinal cord injury treatments: stem-cells tourism dangers

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By: Corinne Jeanmaire – endParalysis foundation. – Sept 2016

Spinal cord injury treatments – the dangers of stem-cell tourism:

 The article below highlights, once more, the dangers involved in “medical tourism”.  So-called “unproven / commercial therapies” are available on the market, in various exotic countries across the world (Mexico, Panama, Iran, China etc) for payment (usually ranging from a few thousands to 100,000 USD). They attract, because they feature new and promising biotechnologies, often stem-cells, but possibly other therapeutic devices or medicinal products as well. They fascinate because they are off-track and are perfectly marketed. The patient, tired of hearing that the best he/she can do is to accept his/her condition, all of a sudden finds a reason to hope and even somebody finally listening to him and understanding him. But there is a catch: the therapies proposed on the market are not tested, not proven, not monitored and can lead to a worsening of the patient’s condition instead of the expected improvement, as shown by this article. Furthermore, such unproven therapies, unlike clinical trials, are not scientifically run and do not add up to global scientific knowledge.

We need a cure for spinal cord injury. There is progress in that direction but we need to know and to do much more to reach some significant functional recovery levels. Therefore, should some patients want to try experimental treatments, we advise them to go for a clinical trial rather than a commercial therapy. How to know the difference? A clinical trial is FREE and it has to be listed in www.clinicaltrials.gov.  You may also read more on the subject in our previous post here .

Spinal cord injury stem-cells treatment for recovery

Glioproliferative Lesion of the Spinal Cord as a Complication of “Stem-Cell Tourism”


Commercial stem-cell clinics have been highly publicized in the lay press and operate worldwide with limited or no regulation.1 We report the case of a 66-year-old man who underwent intrathecal infusions for the treatment of residual deficits from an ischemic stroke at commercial stem-cell clinics in China, Argentina, and Mexico. He was not taking any immunosuppressive medications. In reports provided to him by the clinics, the infusions were described as consisting of mesenchymal, embryonic, and fetal neural stem cells. Progressive lower back pain, paraplegia, and urinary incontinence subsequently developed. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a lesion of the thoracic spinal cord and thecal sac; a biopsy specimen was obtained (Figure 1 FIGURE 1Findings Obtained on MRI, during Surgery, and after Biopsy.).

Neuropathological analysis revealed a densely cellular, highly proliferative, primitive neoplasm with glial differentiation. Short tandem repeat DNA fingerprinting analysis indicated that the mass was predominantly composed of nonhost cells (see the Supplementary Appendix, available with the full text of this letter at NEJM.org). On the basis of histopathological and molecular studies, this glioproliferative lesion appeared to have originated from the intrathecally introduced exogenous stem cells. The lesion had some features that overlapped with malignant gliomas (nuclear atypia, a high proliferation index, glial differentiation, and vascular proliferation) but did not show other features typical of cancer (no cancer-associated genetic aberrations were detected on next-generation sequencing of 309 cancer-associated genes [see the Supplementary Appendix]). Thus, although the lesion may be a considered a neoplasm (i.e., a “new growth”), it could not be assigned to any category of previously described human neoplasm on the basis of the data we gathered. Radiation therapy led to decreased back pain, improved mobility of the right leg, and decreased the bulk of the lesion on MRI.

Read more: here.

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