||Thread Tools||Search this Thread||Display Modes|
Deering sisters went to China for stem cell treatment
Erica and Shannon Deering have dared to dream of one day walking, getting married and frolicking on a beach with their children.
The Deering sisters -- Erica, 21, and Shannon, 24, of Port Perry -- were left paralyzed after a devastating 2004 car accident.
Terrified and overwhelmed with worry, the girls' father, Tony Deering, began researching everything he could to find a cure. It led the family to find hope in an experimental stem-cell therapy in southern China, where patients claim they have been miraculously cured from spinal cord injuries.
For 5 1/2 weeks, the sisters underwent stem-cell transfusions in December 2006 at Shenzhen Nanshan People's Hospital. Millions of umbilical stem cells were injected into the fluid of the lower spine, in concert with herbal intravenous treatments and acupuncture.
At first, the sisters said they felt warmth in their legs due to an increase in circulation in their limbs and physical changes in their postures. They were able to sit up straighter and breathing became less laborious during physiotherapy.
But, the sisters did not receive the miracle they had wished for. They are still not able to move their feet or grip their fingers into a fist.
"In terms of regaining movement -- nothing like that happened. We didn't really have any major improvements, but it did boost our immune systems and we weren't sick for two years straight -- not even with a cold," said Erica, who is learning to transfer herself from a bed to her wheelchair in rehab.
"I'm glad I did it because if we hadn't done it, we'd still be wondering what might have happened," Erica said.
Shannon said the experience in China was "worth a shot."
"It was all so brand new back then. It was something we had to do and I'm glad we did because it was an amazing experience," said Shannon, who now lives with her boyfriend in Port Perry.
"I would tell people thinking of going over to China to wait and give scientists more time to come up with something more concrete with evidence that it works," Shannon said.
The Deering sisters are among thousands of patients who have made the pilgrimage to China for the controversial regenerative stem-cell treatments. The weekly stem-cell injections cost the sisters $40,000. Another $108,000 was spent on flights, hotels and two personal caregivers who were needed 24/7 to attend the girls' therapy and needs.
Regnerative medicine using stem-cell research, tissue engineering and gene therapy is cutting-edge research. It focuses on the repair, replacement and regeneration of cells, tissues or organs to restore damaged function resulting from diseases and ailments.
In Canada, only a handful of safe and well-established regenerative stem-cell therapies are available for blood disorders such as leukemia with bone marrow transplants, immune disorders, and tissue grafting. Other stem-cell therapies are still being studied and require more testing to ensure their safety and long-term benefits before they can be tried on humans.
Meanwhile, Toronto researchers published a study Friday in the Regenerative Medicine journal, which shows China has become one of the top five players in the world in regenerative medicine research.
The study found the Chinese government poured billions into stem-cell research. China's gross domestic expenditure on research and development in science and technology grew from $4.8 billion in 1996 to a whopping $42.5 billion today. Much of the R&D funding goes to stem-cell research and tissue engineering and gene therapy.
"China has been a rising star in the regenerative medicine field. China's researchers were quick to get on stem cells from the start," said study author Dr. Dominique McMahon, of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto.
China can trace its roots in stem-cell research back to 1963 when Dizhou Tong cloned an Asian carp, producing the world's first cloned fish.
In recent years, McMahon said China provided huge incentives to recruit Chinese nationals from world- renowned centres in the U.S. and the U.K. to return to China to conduct stem-cell research. And now there are signs of the payoff from the investments.
In terms of the number of articles on stem cells in medical and scientific journals, the study found China was the fifth largest contributor in 2008, while Canada was ranked eighth after the U.S., Germany, Japan, U.K., China, Italy and France.
The number of scientific publications written by China's researchers jumped from 37 in peer-reviewed journals in the year 2000 to 1,116 in 2008. Canada published 647 journal papers on stem cells in 2008.
While the study found that China is becoming a scientific powerhouse in stem-cell research, it has, however, been tainted by more than 200 controversial for-profit stem-cell treatment hospital clinics, which claim they have developed treatments for Lou Gehrig's disease, traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, diabetes, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, optic nerve hypoplasia and many others.
McMahon said these controversial stem-cell hospital clinics scattered across China treat Chinese patients, but they also target large numbers of foreign patients -- such as the Deering sisters.
A skeptical international research community condemns the practice of these Chinese clinics, which administer unproven stem-cell therapies to vulnerable patients.
McMahon and her colleagues flew to China for the study and visited some of these questionable clinics.
"We found for the most part, China has not been well-recognized in terms of contribution to research. We think international criticism has been holding them back from moving forward ... because of the confusion between the legitimate research being done there with stem-cell clinics providing treatments, which have no clinical evidence," McMahon said, adding that China is in the process of implementing new rules to govern such treatments.
"The field is exciting and it is ripe for exploitation of vulnerable individuals and for some indications, this is exactly what's happening in China, the Dominican Republic and India. But China seems to be one of the major players," said Dr. Tim Caulfield, Canada's research chairman in health law and policy.
"Some of the most controversial therapies are being offered and there's little evidence to support their usefulness. Treatments from cancer to spinal cord injuries to MS, to neurological disorders are being used with stem-cell therapies but there isn't any evidence to support the use," Caulfield said.
"It is a paradox. We don't want to paint the whole country with the same punishment. China is leading-edge in top journals, yet at the same time they have very questionable practices at these stem-cell clinics, which are often not proven therapies," he said.
"If the stem-cell clinic centres really work, they should be able to prove the data on cases they've cured -- why hold back?" Caulfield said.
"These stem-cell clinics are taking advantage of desperate people -- that's their modus operandi. This should serve as a red flag because it's too good to be true," said Dr. Michael Rudnicki, scientific director of the Canadian Stem-cell Network.
China has some catching up to do in terms of the regulation of clinical trials and issuing licences to practise experimental therapies at these for-profit stem-cell clinics, he said.
"While their regulatory regime is up-to-date for international standards from the research end, there still needs to be more enforcement, oversight and regulatory guidelines at for-profit centres, which are clearly not delivering appropriate treatments," Rudnicki said.
In Canada, no such practice would be deemed acceptable. Before even considering conducting clinical trials, scientists must meet rigourous requirements set down by Health Canada.
Erica Deering is waiting for the day when regenerative stem cells can cure her.
"I'm trying to get on the list to be one of the guinea pigs in the U.S. for clinical trials in California using embryonic stem cells from a fetus for spinal cord injuries," said Erica, who is studying broadcast journalism in the U.S.
"I believe stem cells are going to be successful, it just needs more time."
Had UC treatment April 5th, 2007
Had autologous treatment March 19, 2010
Had bone marrow and adipose stem cell treatment (autologous) June 16, 2010
|Thread Tools||Search this Thread|