STEM CELL THERAPY

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The DOH "one-peso consultant" for non-communicable diseases, Dr. Anthony Leachon, resigned, while his brother, Oriental Mindoro Representative Paulino Salvador Leachon, called for the resignation of Secretary Ona. At least 21 medical groups issued petition papers for the DOH to issue clearer regulations for practicing clinicians to safeguard the health of Filipinos. The burning issue is the quest for the "fountain of youth" through stem cell therapy.

Ona made a keynote message that became controversial during the 1st Mid-Year convention of the Philippine Society for Stem Cell Medicine (PSSCM) on August 12, and appeared as a full-page ad with the title "Stem Cell: The Final Word" paid by the PSSCM. The speech categorized stem cell therapy as part of "innovative therapy" and allowed in the meantime the conduct of the treatment even without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on stem cell products.

Ona, in a press statement on August 20, reiterated that the administrative order that regulates the use of stem cell therapy either as recognized treatment modality or for research purposes, was meant to protect the public from harm rather than a blanket endorsement of its use or potential benefits.  While the DOH supports rapid scientific advancement in the field of cellular medicine, the DOH more importantly is duty bound to protect the public from harm or fraud through sound regulation. In fact, the DOH has issued these regulatory guidelines that are considered one of most stringent in the world. For one, stem cell therapies and research will only be allowed in accredited hospitals; stand alone clinics will not be allowed. All therapies and researches need review and approval of institutional review committee. The local guidelines also supersedes those issued by other countries or international bodies. All embryonic stem cell therapy is prohibited. Even the use of adipose (fat) derived stem cell is restricted by the FDA.

There are only a limited number of medical conditions in which stem cell therapy may be indicated. Others are claims that should be taken with a grain of salt. Unless, unproven therapies are supported by evidence in clinical trials then the public is advised not to participate when offered and to immediately inform DOH if they have doubts whatsoever.  The public can access <www.clinicaltrials.gov> to  learn about the status of on-going trials on stem cell therapy.

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