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China’s Black Market Stem Cells

Despite government efforts to ban unapproved stem cell treatments, companies around China still offer them openly.

By | April 13, 2012

image: China’s Black Market Stem Cells Wikimedia Commons, Calle Eklund/V-wolf

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CALLE EKLUND/V-WOLF

In January, the Chinese Ministry of Health once again attempted to regulate the unapproved stem-cell tourism business in China, announcing rules such as required registration for organizations using stem cells in the clinic and a halt to any unapproved stem cell treatments. But not a single clinic has registered, and business is still booming, according to an investigation by Nature.

The clinics, which operate openly, offer expensive and unapproved stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and autism, among other disorders, and attract thousands of medical tourists from around the world. The Chinese health ministry has made several attempts to ban the treatments, including classifying stem-cell treatments as “high risk” and requiring the approval of a technical audit board, but to no avail.

The clinics all claim success in treating patients, but none has published data from controlled clinical trials, Nature reported. And every stem-cell clinic approached by the journal said that “they were aware of the government regulations, and that they were necessary—but only for other clinics that were not operating safely. Most emphasized that their own businesses were entirely legitimate.”

A Ministry of Health representative told Nature that the Ministry is working to take steps to regulate the industry.

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