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Stem Cell Tourist Dies From Treatment In Thailand 451

An anonymous reader writes "Last week, news that Costa Rica was shutting down a large stem cell clinic sparked a debate here on Slashdot about whether patients should be allowed to take the risks that come with untested treatments. Now comes news of what can happen when patients go looking for a shortcut. A patient suffering from an autoimmune disease that was destroying her kidneys went to a Bangkok clinic, where doctors injected her own adult stem cells into her kidneys. Now she's dead, and a postmortem revealed that the sites of injection had weird growths — 'tangled mixtures of blood vessels and bone marrow cells.' Researchers say the treatment almost certainly killed her."
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Stem Cell Tourist Dies From Treatment In Thailand

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  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:34PM (#32621862)

    She could have ended up like Kwai Chang Caine.

  • by jack2000 ( 1178961 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:38PM (#32621900)
    You see? This is the reality of our time. Ignorance and stupidity prevents science from advancing proper. Instead people have to go to dodgy places to get some form of treatment often provided by complete shams.
    None of this would be happening if working with stem cells and bioengineering proper was legalized at large.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Ignorance and stupidity prevents science from advancing proper.

      It's not ignorance or stupidity. It's morality and ethics. And before you roll your eyes, please try to remember what happens when the medical profession tries to set these aside in the name of progress(ironically more often done by self proclaimed "moral societies", but I digress). The field does not have a good track record, and that's just on the research side. The commercial side is arguably worse.

      None of this would be happening if working w

    • When you have different groups advertising conflicting "scientific" results for their own interests, it is no wonder the layman doesn't believe in science anymore. Burn the businessmen!

      Eggs have less cholesterol than previously thought! We both know the world is and isn't global warming. We are/aren't on the verge of running out of oil. We have conclusive evidence that cell phones do and don't cause cancer. Pluto is no longer a planet! This is the face of science to many people.

    • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @02:18AM (#32622898)

      Hey now - thanks to her and a shady lab, we have some hard data on what happens when stem cells (prob extracted from her own bone marrow) are injected willy-nilly into organs. That's data that would be impossible to come by in a normal hospital with normal experimental procedures. She gave her life for science!

      Warning. The preceding was 92% sarcasm and 8% honesty, with a 15% error margin. Read at your own risk.

    • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @05:08PM (#32627664)

      None of this would be happening if working with stem cells and bioengineering proper was legalized at large.

      I hate to break it to you, but stem cell research is alive and well in the US, and has never ever been made illegal.

      What did happen was public funding of embryonic stem cell research was stopped. This is an ethics decision, based on that administration's political values. Funding for non-embryonic stem cell research was actually significantly increased by the same administration that halted funding for embryonic stem cell research. If your still not getting it, it was the Bush administration. It was the same administration responsible for the most significant increase in funding for the sciences in the last 20+ years. Anti-science indeed!

      A few truths about the state of stem cell research:

      1.)Scientists think adult stem cells are limited to reproducing the tissues they originated from, whereas they know embryonic stem cells are not. Obviously this is not the case, since these adult stem cells produced many different types of tissues in the patient's kidneys

      2.)Adult stem cells are much more difficult to culture than embryonic stem cells. Large numbers of cells are needed for stem cell therapy, so this is definitely an issue.

      3.)Embryonic stem cells are much more likely to be rejected by the host than adult stem cells. In other words, even though they are easier to reproduce, they work less reliably.

      Quit listening to anti-religion bullshit and open your own damn eyes and ears. Most of what you hear is total bigotry against religions, as though believing one thing makes you incapable of understanding anything. The fact is, anybody who does not follow a standard religion has a "religion replacement" that they follow just as fervently and dogmatically. Atheists are the epitome of this, and are really some of the most dogmatic people you'll ever come across (some of them right up there with street-corner evangelists). I generally prefer agnostics, as they tend to have a more open and reasonable outlook on things.

  • by Chuck_McDevitt ( 665265 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:48PM (#32621964) Homepage
    For example, I have terminal cancer, although for now I feel fine. The doctors know that none of the FDA approved treatments will stop the cancer, the best they can do is slow it down some. If I saw a treatment that had a high risk of killing me, but a decent chance it would cure me, I'd go for it, even knowing it might kill me.
    • by Ironchew ( 1069966 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:57PM (#32622016)

      Mod parent up.
      Autoimmune diseases tear the body apart. I didn't RTFA, but somebody in end-stage kidney failure would likely choose some risky options, maybe even unscientific ones. I am in no way endorsing the pseudoscience going on here with the stem cell treatments, but palliative care is the only option available with modern medicine in these circumstances. With all the stupid laws here in the United States outlawing effective pain-relieving drugs and assisted suicide, people are getting desperate.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by whoop ( 194 )

        but somebody in end-stage kidney failure would likely choose some risky options, maybe even unscientific ones.

        I actually left the tech industry in 2001 to work with kidney failure patients. Kidney failure is not the end of one's life. You can live plenty of decades with no kidney function. It is certainly a drastic change to go from someone with no medical issues to low kidney function, but it is quite manageable.

        To go to the lengths of flying across the world for an experimental treatment that doesn't e

    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      I've often wondered what i'd do in the same position, but it's impossible to say without actually being there... afaik, with cancer treatments the sooner you start the better, and if you are feeling fine now and the treatment could save you or kill you tomorrow then I'm not so sure i would.

      Fingers crossed for you that they do come up with a cure tomorrow.

    • You have to know how to get around the laws. Just have these types of tests in Washington or Oregon. Say they are assisted suicides by injection of something that might kill you. If you live and are cured it was just a happy accident. Same thing for prostitution. Just have the whore sign a modeling contract and let a Flip Video Camera role. Now it's not prostitution it's acting!!!
    • Andrew Weil, M.D., wrote a book [google.com] on the subject. There are always options, whether or not your doctor is aware of them is another matter entirely.

      What kind of cancer?

    • That's really bad science. Medicine is about trying things that are proven safe, not believing in advance that something is the cure and doing it first. That's why we torture all those poor little animals.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bmajik ( 96670 )

      I'm sorry about your situation.

      I'm going to do something a little distasteful, which is to bring political ideology into a thread where a man talks about his grim situation. But in your case, it is a matter of life and death, and it is for many people every year. It's not so often that we hear from them first hand.

      You always hear politicans talk about shrinking the government in vague ways. If you listen long enough, you start to hear from libertarians that say _crazy_ sounding stuff.

      One such occasion wa

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by byuu ( 1455609 )
        Say the FDA were to go away, who do you think would be trying out these new experimental treatments first? The poor who can't afford the expensive, tested treatments.

        You can say what you will about libertarianism and freedom of choice, but there is something extremely morbid about using the poor as medical guinea pigs due to their desperate situation.

        Although the poor are predominantly the ones in the first-human-stage drug testing now, at least there is some oversight so that we aren't just trying an
    • For example, I have terminal cancer, although for now I feel fine. The doctors know that none of the FDA approved treatments will stop the cancer, the best they can do is slow it down some. If I saw a treatment that had a high risk of killing me, but a decent chance it would cure me, I'd go for it, even knowing it might kill me.

      That fucking sucks. My condolences. I completely agree with what you're saying. If the patient is making an informed consent decision, I don't see what the problem is. There could be some room for argument if a healthy, overweight person signs on for a potentially lethal weight loss procedure since that's getting into violating the whole "do no harm" territory. But if a person's already terminal, it's not like the experimental treatments could make things any worse. The whole informed consent thing would av

  • I don't know how any country that calls itself free can prohibit this sort of thing.

    • Agreed. There should be an FDA but it should be like UL or the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. That way if you want to inject buffalo stem cells into your lips go ahead it just won't be FDA approved.
      • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

        The FDA could start a program named (yes really) "Snake Oil Salesman Licence". That way you're A) Registered with the FDA (papertrail) and B) the consumer is aware that the proprietor isn't selling medically acknowledged remedies, which could infact actually be Snake Oil. The media would have a field day with this; "Local Snake Oil Salesman promotes new weight loss drug", "Global Snake Oil Salesman Corporation X promotes new erectile dysfunction drug", "Snake Oil Salesmen promote dangerous new stem cell the

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:50PM (#32621986) Journal
    The problem is that ppl MUST resort to going out of the nations health care because they need to take risks. The problem is that other than the majority of western nations(US, most of EU, Canada, Australia, Japan,etc), I personally would not trust other nation's health system to do the right things.

    So, the solution should 2 different FDAs.
    The first protects normal ppl. THat is it makes certain that we do not have more issues like we have with Tylenol, Ibuprofin, etc. Likewise, it says what procedures to risk, etc.

    HOWEVER, once you have exhausted all avenues, and your life is on a thread, then you can step up to a different protocol. But ppl and companies in this arena, than have medical protection, etc., but have access to radical treatments. The idea is that FDA2 would make certain that it is not done DANGEROUSLY, at least without the patient having a good understanding.

    If we are going to make advances, we NEED ppl to be allowed to take INFORMED risks, but safely.
    • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:07PM (#32622062)

      This system already exist. Perhaps you should read up on Phase I clinical trials.

      • And that system was so super successful this woman had to fly to Thailand.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TubeSteak ( 669689 )

        This system already exist. Perhaps you should read up on Phase I clinical trials.

        Pharmaceutical companies test a lot of drugs in Europe or India/Asia before they ever get close to America's shores.
        There are drugs that have been legal in Europe for years before the FDA even allowed trials.

      • I have worked in the medical RD community 30 years ago. I admit that I have not stayed totally up on things, but I have stayed enough to know that Clinical Trials are STILL under control of the almighty FDA. One of the issues that America has is that we USED to have Scientists as doctors. Back in the 70's on, the medical schools wanted docs that 'related better' to patients. The problem is that we have 'feel nice' assholes in place, but without a real brain amongst the majority of lot. The REAL problem is
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:08PM (#32622072) Journal
      To a nontrivial(though, certainly, not wholly comprehensive) degree, this system already exists de facto.

      First, you have FDA-approved drugs, treatments, and devices. Then, you have clinical trials of drugs, treatments, and devices hoping to join the first category; but not yet there.

      This latter category recruits trial subjects from either the public at large(for the safety/tolerability portion of the studies) or from the patient pool for whatever the condition is(for the efficacy portion). This means that, in practice, a fair number of patients(weighted toward those for whom the FDA-approved stuff isn't cutting it) are taking experimental, unapproved, therapies, with effort being made to minimize the danger; but with the recognition that this isn't without its risks. Now, it is true that not everyone who wants to can necessarily get into a given trial. Some are just size-limited. In other cases, the group running the trial might be cherry-picking patients to try to get the results they want(ie. if you drug kills a bunch of people, or fails to cure, your odds of FDA approval go down. This creates an incentive to keep the hopeless cases away.)

      There is also the intermediate category of off-label use. Once something is FDA-approved, doctors are not required to use it only for whatever it was originally approved for(the manufacturer can't market it for any unapproved use; but doctors are free to prescribe it for pretty much whatever they deem suitable, subject only to the risk of this being declared "malpractice").
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Penguinshit ( 591885 )
        Amen. I have been through three clinical trials and one patient-driven off-label trial, and have just created the second such trial, looking for something to slow or stop my deterioration from ALS.

        Desperate people do desperate things. I have known a few in my condition resort to stem cell quacks and a couple have died from it. I am a big believer in stem cells, but only done the right way.
  • Uh... (Score:4, Funny)

    by jav1231 ( 539129 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:11PM (#32622092)
    It's dangerous enough to inject things INTO someone in Thailand as a tourist, let alone be the one injected into! :o
  • FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:11PM (#32622094)

    I'm a physician (I know, easy for an AC to say). There is nothing in the linked article to suggest that the treatment was directly linked to her death. It may or may not have contributed to her eventual renal failure but there are an untold number of people out there with nonfunctioning kidneys living for years on dialysis. Unusual tumors localized to the kidneys don't kill people. While I don't encourage patients to pursue treatments lacking in evidence of safety and efficacy, this article is just meant to spread FUD.

  • When she first arrived in Bangkok, she was a man.

  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @11:43PM (#32622244) Journal
    Researchers say the treatment almost certainly killed her

    And, without treatment? Nature would have taken it's course... I'd say let people try what they want (assuming the treatment is not a total scam.)

    Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing. - Redd Foxx
  • by raving griff ( 1157645 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @12:04AM (#32622376)

    It should be noted for those that didn't RTFA that this case was more of a cause of bad clinic than a bad procedure.

    According to the article, patients with similar kidney issues in a clinical trial in which bone marrow stem cells were injected into the blood stream showed marked improvements.

    This clinic, on the other hand, injected these cells directly into the kidney rather than into her blood stream, causing the adult stem cells to try to build blood vessels in her kidney when they should have injected the stem cells into her bloodstream.

    So, in other words, had the clinic done what the had been at least moderately successful in previous trials rather than haphazardly throw their own spin onto it, the patient would likely have been fine.

  • by Punto ( 100573 ) <puntobNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 19, 2010 @12:26AM (#32622466) Homepage

    even if they receive medical treatment. Not that I'm defending some clinic in Thailand, but we don't see a news report every time someone dies from medical treatment, even from "mainstream medicine". And that's because sometimes people die. We all know and accept it, doctors warn you about it. Some doctors even make a living out of it (oncology, any kind of non-trivial surgery, etc), there are industries based on it (if you can call insurance an "industry"). So experimental stem cell treatment is not 100% effective. What is?

  • Soooo... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @12:55AM (#32622590) Homepage Journal

    Someone with an otherwise certainly terminal illness took a chance on experimental treatment, that ended up killing them.

    And WHAT is wrong with this?

    It's bad enough when people want to be my mom when I prefer to volunteer on unnecessary risks, but in cases like this leave them alone. sheesh. Like you'd prefer to force them to sit at home and die. What's it to you, and what gives you the right?

  • by thephydes ( 727739 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @02:10AM (#32622856)
    "should people be allowed to take the risk", but "why shouldn't they be allowed to". Personally I want to have the right to decide my treatment once I am fully informed as to the possible consequences. This especially applies to "end of life" scenarios such as debilitating illnesses that have no known cure.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.