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Stem Cell Treatments: A real hope or false promise?

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy [1] receives many inquiries from patients about stem cell treatments for peripheral neuropathy. An article, ‘Snake Oil’ Stem Cell Clinics Peddle False Hope for High Prices [2] recently appeared in The Medium (www.medium.com [3]) on the rise of stem cell treatments for any number of conditions. Is it a real hope or false promise for patients, including peripheral neuropathy patients?

We asked Dr. Shanna Patterson, FPN’s Patient Education Program Advisor, for her views on the article and on stem cell treatments for peripheral neuropathy.

What do we mean when we talk ‘stem cells’?

With respect to stem cells, we have a very exciting and powerful biological concept that many researchers are trying to harness and apply to medical technology. As the article mentions, there are different types of stem cells – and all of them in their native physiologic environment have the ability to develop into certain types of mature cells (building blocks that make up tissue). However, the caveat is that there is a huge difference between how these cells operate in the body, with built in complicated molecular and genetic modifying factors, and getting stem cells to successfully regenerate certain types of tissue in a lab, or when implanted in another human. It is incredibly complex, and scientists are still developing a full understanding of how stem cells work.

Can stem cells cure?

When we think about how stem cells might be applied to any number of medical conditions, again the idea is that scientists are trying to make stem cells to grow in a way that repairs or replaces specific types of damaged or diseases human tissue, as mentioned in the article. Though the potential for medical breakthroughs using stem cells from an intellectual perspective seems astonishing and exciting – we are truthfully very far from being able to cure illnesses using stem cells. However, there are a number of clinical trials and ongoing research is extensive.

Stem cell treatments: proceed with caution or full stop ahead?

If a patient found a clinical trial [4]through a reputable medical research institution looking at stem cell treatments for peripheral neuropathy, I think that could be a good opportunity – understanding that we don’t know whether or not it will work, and also bearing in mind any risks. However, clinics not affiliated with a reputable research institution promising results may not be fully legitimate, may be extremely expensive, and there may be other health risks, as the article also mentions. I would be extremely wary of these types of operations.

For more information on res [5]earch [5] and treatments [6] related to peripheral neuropathy, please visit the FPN website [7] and subscribe to our online newsletters

More about Dr. Shanna Patterson:

Shanna K. Patterson, MD is an Assistant Professor, the Medical Director for Neurology and the Director of the EMG laboratories at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospitals. She completed her Neurology residency and fellowship in Clinical Neurophysiology at Columbia University. In her outpatient clinical practice she cares for neuromuscular and general neurology patients, and also conducts electrodiagnostic testing. Dr. Patterson’s work also encompasses education and administrative leadership roles. She is passionate about exploring mechanisms for enhancing patient care and physician wellness through improved workflow practices.