Univ. of Minnesota ethicist sounds warning on unproven cell-based interventions

May 01, 2018

Image with caption: Leigh Turner, Ph.D.

Leigh Turner, Ph.D.

Omaha, NE - An ethicist from the University of Minnesota, Leigh Turner, Ph.D., was the featured speaker for the 2018 Lunch and Learn on April 27. The event was sponsored by the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures and held in conjunction with the Nebraska Science Festival.

Dr. Turner’s presentation, titled "The U.S. Direct-to-Consumer Marketplace for Unproven Stem Cell Interventions: Ethical, Scientific and Legal Concerns," addressed the ethical and legal issues around businesses selling unproven and unlicensed cell-based interventions.

More than 50 people attended the free event held at the Scott Conference Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Dr. Turner warned the audience regarding false advertising tactics by businesses and the lack of evidence of success in the cell-based medical procedures. 

"The problem is not with the person. The problem is with the business that’s giving them misleading and inaccurate [information] and sometimes we can raise the question, ‘is it fraudulent?’" Dr. Turner said. "It’s easy to dupe people. The more difficult the circumstances for the patient, the more it’s easier to take advantage and prey on them."

As with anything, Dr. Turner said, it’s important to do your homework. In doing so, he said you’ll discover the loopholes and gray areas of the clinics and their cell-based medical procedures.

"There’s the possibility of false advertising claims that someone is paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for something that’s packaged as a stem cell treatment, but in fact it’s not a stem cell product at all," said Dr. Turner, who is associate professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics, School of Public Health and College of Pharmacy.  

"Or maybe there are some stem cells in there, but there’s no meaningful notion of a dose. Or it’s put into the person by someone who’s not qualified, who has no background in stem cell research. It could be someone who has little or no clinical experience. That’s when bad things can happen to people."

The pressure to change these false practices rests on lawmakers and state medical boards, Dr. Turner said.

"The FDA needs to play a more active role in policing this marketplace and investigating businesses that are marketing. I think there’s a role for the Federal Trade Commission," he said. "You shouldn’t be able to say whatever you want just to sell a product and make money from people. There’s a role for state medical boards."

About Dr. Leigh Turner

Dr. Turner is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics, School of Public Health and College of Pharmacy. He is a co-editor of Risks and Challenges in Medical Tourism: Understanding the Global Market for Health Services and The View from Here: Bioethics and the Social Sciences. Dr. Turner is the author of numerous publications examining ethical issues related to medical travel and globalization of health care.

About Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures

The Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures is an organization that believes stem cell research, therapies or cures that are permitted by federal law should be allowed in Nebraska. NCLC promotes, supports and advocates research to advance our quality of life and our economy.

About the Nebraska Science Festival

Presented by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the Nebraska Science Festival is a collaboration of organizations and individuals interested in the advancement of science literacy. In addition to UNMC, other sponsors, included the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, Metro Credit Union, NEST 529 College Savings, Metropolitan Community College and media sponsors KETV and the Omaha World-Herald.

In addition to NeSciFest.com, you will find SciFest updates and information on Twitter (@NESciFest) and Facebook (NE SciFest).