Stem cell researchers have welcomed an announcement by search engine giant Google that they will no longer accept advertising from groups promoting unproven uses of stem cells and gene therapy.
In a new policy statement on digital advertising for speculative and experimental medical treatments, Google said on 6 September that it would ban ads for unproven or experimental medical techniques such as most stem cell therapy, cellular (non-stem) therapy, and gene therapy.
“This new policy will prohibit ads selling treatments that have no established biomedical or scientific basis. The new policy also includes treatments that are rooted in basic scientific findings and preliminary clinical experience, but currently have insufficient formal clinical testing to justify widespread clinical use,” said Google Policy Adviser Adrienne Biddings, in a blog post.
“Often times, these treatments can lead to dangerous health outcomes and we feel they have no place on our platforms.”
Google said the crackdown had been driven by “a rise in bad actors attempting to take advantage of individuals by offering untested, deceptive treatments.”
“The digital ads ecosystem can only flourish if it’s a place that is safe and trustworthy for users,” wrote Ms Biddings.
The ban was welcomed by International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), whose president Professor Deepak Srivastava described it as “a much-needed and welcome step to curb the marketing of unscrupulous medical products such as unproven stem cell therapies.”
“While stem cells have great potential to help us understand and treat a wide range of diseases, most stem cell interventions remain experimental and should only be offered to patients through well-regulated clinical trials,” said Professor Srivastava, a research cardiologist and director of the Roddenberry Stem Cell Center, University of California, San Francisco.
“The premature marketing and commercialisation of unproven stem cell products threatens public health, their confidence in biomedical research, and undermines the development of legitimate new therapies.”
However Google said the ad ban would not restrict the dissemination of information about legitimate stem cells programs and developments.
“We know that there are good actors in this space as well, doing important research that may lead to major advances in medicine. We’ll continue to allow advertising for research happening in this space for clinical trials and the ability for clinicians to promote their research findings to the public,” said Ms Biddings.
“We know that important medical discoveries often start as unproven ideas … and as new findings come to light and regulatory bodies oversee developments in this field, we will continue to evaluate our policies and make updates as needed.”
Unproven stem cell treatments have been marketed by clinics in Australia as a ‘regeneration’ treatment in conditions such as sports injuries and joint damage, as well as for purported ‘anti-ageing’ effects.