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The recent buzz around Texas governor and US presidential candidate Rick Perry's stem cell transplant has generated interest in the procedure all over the world and not only US. Stem cell treatments, however, are nothing new.

Patients Don't Usually Pay to Participate in "Experimental Trials"

Bone marrow transplants, which are essentially transplants of the stem cells that make blood cells, have been done since 1968. Embryonic stem cells have been used, mostly unsuccessfully and sometimes with disastrous consequences, to treat diseases of aging since the 1980's. And Rick Perry's Texas is becoming a center for treatment with adult stem cells—harvested from the same person to whom they are given—for a variety of age-related conditions.

If you have extraordinary health insurance coverage, or if you can afford $10,000 to $50,000 per treatment, you might consider stem cell treatment for a bad back, memory loss, heart muscle damage, or many other conditions. Here are 10 things every potential stem cell recipient needs to know about the procedure.

1. There really is something to lose by trying an unproven treatment

In one sensational case, a nine-year-old boy developed brain tumors after receiving stem cell treatment. But even if stem cells do not turn into cancer cells, there can be other complications.

  • Receiving stem cells probably will disqualify you from any other more promising experimental treatments.
  • Receiving stem cells definitely will disqualify for new health insurance coverage, except from state risk pools or the Obamacare risk pools set up in 2010 (if you live in the United States).
  • If the first treatment does not work, patients usually will want to try more treatments, at $10,000 to $50,000 for each injection.
  • Most adult stem cell clinics are located in Texas or Thailand. Travel costs can be high. Separation from family and friends can make the stay difficult.

2. Patients usually pay to get stem cell treatments. Patients usually do not pay to participate in clinical trials

Participating in clinical trials, contrasted to receiving unproven treatments, has other advantages. Clinical trials do not begin until two separate prior research studies have established that the treatment is not likely to have any negative side effects. Clinical trials are supervised by ethics boards to make sure no participant is exposed to undue harm in the course of treatment.

The downside of participating in a clinical trial is the possibility of being assigned to the control group, which receives a placebo rather than the active treatment or drug.

3. Just because stem cells came from your body, they are not necessarily safe

Stem cells are found in very small numbers in the human body. They have to be extracted from blood, fat tissue, or bone and then cultured in the lab to grow sufficient numbers to repair tissues. While your cells are in the lab, they can be contaminated with viruses or bacteria. And genes that cause cancer can be switched on while genes that prevent cancer are switched off before the cells are placed back in your body.

4. To be useful in treatment, stem cells will be coded to behave in certain ways

The genetic manipulation of stem cells is not yet a highly reliable science. Doctors cannot tell you with any certainty that a stem cell will morph into any particular kind of cell without observing the transformation in the tissue culture in the lab. Beware promises of that large numbers of stem cells put into your body while they are still stem cells will behave in any certain way.

5. Make sure your stem cell therapist thoroughly understands all medications you have to take

Certain diabetes drugs, Actos (pioglitazone) and Avandia (rosiglitazone) for example, turn nearly all the body's bone and blood stem cells into fat cells. This is not a good thing when you are receiving stem cells to repair your brain or your heart.
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