Is Stem Cell Therapy Dangerous?

Commentary by Dan Roberts, Editor
Living Well With Low Vision
The low vision community has been shaken this past week by news of three patients whose vision was damaged by stem cell treatment at a Florida clinic in 2015. There is good reason for concern, but not about the future of stem cell therapy for retinal diseases. The concern is about trusting practitioners who are anxious to capitalize on yet-unproven treatments far ahead of FDA-approved clinical trial results.
FDA approval of stem cell therapy is given on a case-by-case basis. There is no blanket approval for stem cell therapy, and there are, so far, very few circumstances that have been cleared for trials or clinical use. Treatments for retinal degenerations are not yet among them.
Until science-based, peer-reviewed studies are completed and treatment protocols are established, safety is a toss-up. Nothing good will come from trusting one’s health to practitioners who provide no more than patient testimonials and empirical evidence. At best, the gamble might pay off, but odds are that time and money will be wasted and/or harm will occur.
Regarding this recent disturbing news, a follow-up report published in the New England Journal of Medicine explained that “The patients’ severe visual loss after the injection was associated with ocular hypertension, hemorrhagic retinopathy, vitreous hemorrhage, combined traction and rhegmatogenous retinal detachment, or lens dislocation.”
In other words, the preparation and procedures were questionable, not the concept of stem cell therapy. Good research will continue. Consumers simply need to be patient, knowledgable, and wary of false claims.