A Cautionary Tale of ‘Stem Cell Tourism’

Jim Gass was a wealthy man. He suffered a stroke in 2009, and went on a worldwide search for a cure for his resulting difficulties. Money was no object, and he figured the worst that could happen was that he didn’t get better. He was wrong. Gass developed pain in his lower back, which turned out to be a mysterious mass growing on his spine. A surgeon opened him up, and found a bloody mass that was strongly attached to the tissues around it.

He added, “I had never seen anything like it.”

Tests showed that the mass was made up of abnormal, primitive cells and that it was growing very aggressively. Then came the real shocker: The cells did not come from Jim Gass. They were someone else’s cells.

Mr. Gass, it turned out, had had stem cell therapy at clinics in Mexico, China and Argentina, paying tens of thousands of dollars each time for injections in a desperate attempt to recover from a stroke he had in 2009. The total cost with travel was close to $300,000.

Stem cells hold a lot of promise for medical use, but they have their drawbacks, namely that they divide and mutate quickly and can grow into all kinds of cells that are hard to predict. That’s why stem cell research is progressing slowly. Read the story of Jim Gass and his quest for alternative treatment at the New York Times. -via Metafilter

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