Doctor of Medicine

When an honorable physician resigns his covetable post at the Department of Health (DOH), it begs the question, “What gives?”

In a public statement, DOH Secretary Dr. Enrique Ona expressed his support for doctors who charge patients for stem cell treatments (even those that have not yet been proven effective or at least safe). Dr. Anthony “Tony” Leachon, a consultant to the department, threw in the towel shortly thereafter.

quack doctor

The International Society for Stem Cell Research warns the public against unscrupulous doctors who market stem cells as a cure-all: “…It is unlikely that a single type of stem cell treatment can treat multiple unrelated conditions, such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.” They go on to say, “Just because people say stem cells helped them doesn’t mean they did.”

While an international body governing stem cell research is telling us to beware of stem cell treatments, our own doctors are actually telling us otherwise? Pardon me for raising a brow.

Is It All About the Money?

In the Philippines, politicians and celebrities are endorsing stem cell therapy as a “treatment that works” for autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other diseases. Doctors are charging patients up to PhP1M (£14621) for stem cell treatments that are experimental at best.

Due to stem cell therapy’s anecdotal popularity, the Philippine College of Physicians, together with other medical societies, released a position paper detailing the potentially unethical nature of promoting expensive and unproven treatments.

Although the field of stem cell research holds a lot of promise, it is subject to abuse by medical practitioners who offer stem cell treatment as a last resort – in exchange for a hefty fee. “…The payment of the patient for participation must be (if ever) at cost and non-profitable. It may be considered under the practice of ‘compassionate use’ only upon the approval of the ethics committee,” clarified Dr. Marita Reyes, the Philippine Health Research Ethics Board co-chair.

Stem Cell Therapy: What You Should Know

The moment you hear about a doctor charging a fee that can pay for a brand new car – and you find out it’s for a treatment that is still under investigation – you know something’s not right. Although doctors offer experimental drugs to patients during drug trials, patients are not normally made to cough up a large sum of money that allows doctors to turn a profit.

After all, the treatment isn’t even proven to work yet.

Any ethics board without a vested interest in stem cell treatment will tell you that an experimental treatment must not be commercialized. It may be harmful more than it is helpful.

Can Stem Cell Therapy Kill You?

One particular treatment that has received a lot of publicity is the mesenchymal stem cell treatment. Mesenchymal cells are infused or injected into a patient’s bloodstream to help cure diabetes, autism, or any other condition.

Dr. Reyes explained why this particular treatment can cause death.

  • Mesenchymal stem cells do not belong in the bloodstream. They are found in fat cells or in the bone marrow but are not a normal part of the brain, lungs, or kidneys.
  • Mesenchymal stem cells can cause blood clots. If they cause clots in the lungs, they can cause pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening emergency. Blood clots in the brain can lead to stroke.
  • The infusion of mesenchymal stem cells into the blood can lead to a severe inflammatory reaction. A condition called “systemic inflammatory response syndrome” (SIRS), usually due to widespread infection, can also occur in mesenchymal stem cell therapy. It can lead to organ failure, shock, and death.
  • The processing of mesenchymal stem cells can expose it to different microorganisms – and direct infusion into the blood can bypass the body’s many defense mechanisms. Mesenchymal cells are cultivated from the patient and “grown” outside the body. Unfortunately, with stem cell therapy still lacking regulation, there are no standards that stem cell laboratories need to uphold.

While the treatment of patients in drug trials is sponsored by drug companies, many stem cell therapy patients enjoy no such benefit. Are doctors ignoring the unethical undertone of charging patients for stem cell therapy just because it brings in a whole lot of money? Let’s hear it.

Dr. Stef dela Cruz supports ethical practices in research and drug trials. She is an academic excellence awardee at her Alma Mater. Listen to what she has to say on Facebook.



Stef dela Cruz is a doctor-columnist who received the Dean Bacala Academic Excellence Award from the University of Santo Tomas and the Health Media Award from the Department of Health. She is the human of three cats and a dog. Stalk her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – she won’t sue.

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