Be cautious about claims regarding stem cells treatment: ICMR

Updated: Feb 20, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Mumbai: Indian Council of Medical Research
(ICMR) today said the stem cells research in India is still in
its infancy and cautioned public about claims by any doctor
regarding treatment with its help based on personal testimony.

ICMR said stem cell research should be promoted in the
country in view of its potential for its clinical use but the
at the same time, the doctors should not claim anything
without putting their findings in the peer-reviewed scientific

"Such claims also hurt the feelings of innumerable
patients suffering from muscular dystrophy and spinal injury
as they become even irregular in their conventional treatment
having false hope to get a miracle cure soon," said Dr Alok
Srivastava, Prof of Medicine and Head Haematology Department
and centre for stem cell research at Vellore Christian medical

He was speaking at the ICMR`s public consultation meet
today on the ICMR-DBT guidelines for stem cells research.

Knowing the importance of the cutting edge science of
stem cells, ICMR along with the Department of Biotechnology
which brought out guidelines in 2007 have initiated public
and other stakeholders opinion on the ICMR-DBT guidelines on
stem research and therapy to improve it before it goes for
the process of legislation, said Assistant Director General of
ICMR Dr Geeta Jotwani.

All the important suggestions made at these meetings will
be incorporated in the guidelines if required, she said.

The brainstorming session was held in Mumbai for the
western region and similar meetings will be held in Chennai,
Kolkata, Delhi and possibly Bangalore.

The areas of concern discussed today was ethical and
moral issues of using spare embryos, creation of embryos for
research purpose, therapeutic cloning.

Also there were questions raised about the efficacy of
the cord blood banks and its proper utilisation and huge
public investment involved in it.

Stem cells have excited researchers and raised hopes of
public because of their potential to relieve symptoms or treat
many diseases.

They have become very promising areas of new advances in
medicine, since they can replace the diseased cell in our body
in contrast to existing practice where diseased cells are
treated with drugs and antibiotics.

"However, stem cell research raises many ethical, legal,
scientific and policy issues that are of concern to the policy
makers and public at large. As the research progresses and
technologies advance, the regulatory system needs to be
strengthened and a law has to be enacted," Dr Jotwani said.

"Bone marrow transplantation nowadays fashionably termed
`Stem Cell Therapy` has been a standard mode of treatment for
leukemia for several decades. It will take many more years for
stem-cell-based therapies to move from bench to bedside," she
said referring several claims that were being made in Delhi,
Mumbai and Chennai.

Science is not yet mature to recommend therapies to the
patients, but many clinics are already exploiting the hopes of
patients, encouraging `medical tourism?, collecting large sum
of money without any scientific basis, transparency,
regulations or patient safety, Srivastava said.

"Such unproven therapies put patients at risk and may
affect stem cell research adversely, on the issue," he said.

The meeting was attended by large number of stakeholders
and medical experts like Dr Shyam Agarwal, eminent geneticist
and immunologist from Lucknow, IVF expert Dr Indira Hinduja,
former ICMR deputy director general Dr Vasantha Muthuswami.