A Case for Accelerating Regenerative Medicine

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Early in March 2012, 77-year-old Richard Poling entered a clinic in Bonita Springs, Fla., for a stem cell treatment to help with age-related heart and lung conditions.

Poling, an avid golfer and family man from Indiana, had sought several conventional therapies to alleviate his suffering with unsatisfactory results and was desperate for a treatment that would allow him to enjoy the pleasures of life again. Shortly after receiving his alleged treatment, however, Poling went into cardiac arrest at the clinic and died. According to investigators, the alleged stem cell treatment Poling received was not approved by the FDA.

According to multiple reports, the local cardiologist who conducted the treatment removed fat cells from Poling's abdomen and sent them to a lab that claimed to process and isolate adult stem cells from a patient's own fat. A few hours later, a second procedure was allegedly performed at the same clinic in which Poling had the stem cells injected back into his bloodstream for their regenerative properties. The entire process took one day, and during the hours between the procedures, Poling enjoyed lunch out with his family.

Poling was the second patient to die under the same doctor's care in the last two years after receiving the supposed stem cell therapy. The physician was already under order by the state of Florida to cease performing any further stem cell treatments pending further review, but the doctor allegedly continued performing various stem cell procedures -- until his license was revoked and suspended after Poling's death.

With all the marvels of modern medicine, there are still medical needs that remain unmet by our conventional health care system. When that happens, desperate people like Poling search for alternatives anywhere they can find them. One of these alternatives is stem cell therapy, a science that is no stranger to controversy.

The problem lies in that most stem cell therapies are not FDA-approved, and thus the market is under-regulated and consists of products that lack standardization and legitimacy. The lack of approved products has generated a gray market for stem cell therapeutics -- one that is dangerous and can be deadly.

Even though the United States has taken a passive approach to stem cell therapy as compared to its European and Asian counterparts, there are several U.S. companies vying for FDA approval as they develop stem cell therapies for indications such as heart disease, neurologic disorders and ophthalmologic diseases. While these companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars individually -- billions collectively -- to conduct groundbreaking research and development, rigorous safety studies, and extensive human trials to establish meaningful uses of their medical technologies, the majority of their studies occur overseas where they are sure to receive swifter review and eventual approvals.

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