Calls for national inquiry into rogue stem cell operators


A leading rheumatologist has called for a national independent inquiry into the use of autologous stem cell and other unproven procedures.

Dr Paddy Hanrahan’s call comes following the release of a NSW coroner’s damning inquest findings into the death of a dementia patient who underwent an unproven liposuction stem-cell procedure.

“Fringe medicine like stem cell medicine should be regulated,” he told the limbic. “I think we need to have a proper national inquiry into procedures like this, not just stem cells but other procedures as well.

“It’s not just stem cells, it’s the way patients are used in an experimental manner and are charged a lot of money for it.”

Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon said it was disturbing that the doctor who operated on the 75-year-old woman “would market this ‘experimental’ or ‘innovative’ therapy for profit to vulnerable and desperate people in the full knowledge that there is little scientific support for the ‘therapy’ in relation to dementia”.

The woman suffered blood loss and died at her northern Sydney nursing home after undergoing the procedure in December 2013, at a Macquarie Stem Cells clinic.

The coroner has referred the cosmetic surgeon who carried out the procedure, Dr Ralph Bright, Health Care Complaints Commission for investigation.

The case was discussed at length in a recent Backyard Briefing program on ABC Radio, and it was revealed that one of Dr Hanrahan’s patients, a Perth woman known only as Mary, had also been to Dr Bright’s clinic for stem cell treatment for her rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr Hanrahan told the limbic that he had discussed the prospect of stem cell treatment at some length with Mary. While he said many of his patients tried or used alternative treatments at some point, this was one he was strongly against because there was no real evidence to show that it could treat RA.

“I explicitly told her not to do it,” he said. “I was concerned about the fact it was going to cost her a lot of money. I was concerned about the placebo she’d be receiving for $17,000.”

Despite this advice, Mary went ahead with the treatment that involved painful liposuction followed by IV administration of some of the cells that had been extracted.

While Mary did not experience detrimental effects directly from the procedure, the fact that she had stopped taking her prescribed medication caused a massive flare.

“It wasn’t the stem cells that cause the flare, but it was because she stopped her medication,” Dr Hanrahan said.

He said it had taken some nine months for Mary’s condition to stabilise again – during which time his resolve against the stem cell procedure has strengthened.

“I felt strongly about it before, I feel even more strongly about it now,” he said. “There need to be statutory controls and regulations. Drugs go through massive regulatory oversights before they are used. But here, someone gets an idea and just starts doing it, and that’s not right in a sophisticated society.

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