HEALTHY LIVING

Adult Stem Cells: Doctors Question Rick Perry's Experimental Procedure

Aug 22, 2011 | Updated Oct 22, 2011

Texas governor and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry underwent an experimental adult stem cell treatment last month with the hope of treating his back problem. But a number of osteopathic doctors say the procedure is risky -- it could induce cancers and blood clots -- and could even influence patients to try similarly unproven procedures to treat their health problems, according to news reports. Doctors also warn that it does not have the scientific evidence to prove that it works.

For the procedure, doctors took Perry's own fat cells to grow stem cells in a lab. Then, those cells were injected back into Perry via a spinal fusion, with hopes that the cells would speed up the recovery of Perry's back problems, according to news reports.

Adult stem cells are able to grow and become a cell for a specific tissue or organ, according to the National Institutes of Health. They are different from embryonic stem cells -- which Perry is against using -- which come from fertilized eggs or aborted fetuses. Embryonic stem cells can turn into cells for nearly any tissue in the body.

"The governor consulted with his physician and decided the best course of action for him," Ray Sullivan, a Perry campaign consultant, told The State Column. "He's very pleased with the results of the surgery, with the rapid recovery and with the procedure that he had. And he feels like that is certainly his right to determine the best course of treatment for him."

Adult stem cells are currently used for bone marrow transplants for treating other diseases like leukemia and lymphoma, but there is still not enough research to know whether it's safe to use for treating conditions like heart disease and diabetes, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors have voiced concerns about the legitimacy of stem cell procedures like Perry's, saying there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm that it even works or that it is safe, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a commentary on the subject for MSNBC, denouncing Perry's decision to undergo the procedure.

Caplan wrote:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry went far outside mainstream medicine last month to treat his bad back — an irresponsible choice that endangered himself and anyone who might follow his lead.

In addition, orthopedics experts say Perry's procedure could even lead to the growth of cancer cells, blood clots and infections, the Associated Press reported.

The procedure was "an unusual choice ... quite controversial because there isn’t good evidence yet, at least in the medical literature, that fat cells work better or even work at all in repairing bones," Cleveland Clinic orthopedic surgeon Dr. George Muschler told the AP.

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