Vulnerable patients looking for treatment are signing up for “experimental” and “unproven” stem cell therapies which are being advertised as effective treatments for musculoskeletal ailments such as osteoarthritis, the Association of Orthopaedic Trauma Surgeons of Malta (AOTSM) has warned.
Osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis, can occur in one’s hands, knees, hips or spine, and can be incapacitating for sufferers. In Malta, there is currently no disease-modifying option for osteoarthritis, and the only way out is via a total joint arthroplasty with all the associated costs, complications and extensive rehabilitation.
This means people who do not have dire forms of the disease will not qualify for a total replacement, potentially leaving them seeking alternative treatments.
“It is understandable that patients, in pain, immobile and stiff, would turn to what looks like the superficially easier option of regenerative therapy,” AOTSM said. “Apart from osteoarthritis, there are an increasing number of musculoskeletal conditions that are being targeted for this type of therapy option. ”
“The AOTSM is, however, of the opinion that this mode of treatment, including stem cell interventions as is practiced currently is of unproven benefit,” they continued.
Anyone offering these treatments were doing so “with an unclear scientific basis, in most cases with an unknown mechanism of action, insufficient pre-clinical data, unconfirmed product quality with poorly characterised cell lines, inadequate information disclosures to patients and no informed consent, all of which means uncontrolled and unethical experimentation on our patients”.
It is believed a handful of clinics in Malta are currently offering the treatment, which can cost thousands, and may be totally ineffective.
One form of therapy includes extracting stem cells from the patient’s belly fat, before injecting those cells into the damaged area, such as the knee joint.
“The nature of these treatments is still experimental, and high-level substantiation is still lacking. There is little to no evidence of long-term efficacy from such treatment, and certainly no lasting long-term structural improvement,” the group said.
They criticised clinics who were portraying stem cell therapy as a cure-all for their needs, and called for doctors to “distinguish hype from hope.
“The AOTSM is of the opinion that all the involved stakeholders need to come together – Patient Advocacy Groups, Medical Societies and regulatory Agencies – to raise awareness, educate physicians and patients, and ascertain the differences between rigorously-tested stem cell interventional therapy against the unproven nebulousness of what are currently research alternatives,” they said.
They reiterated that they could not recommend adult stem cell therapy as a validated treatment option for musculoskeletal conditions in good faith.
Have you had any experience with stem cell therapy in Malta or abroad?