Warning over crowdsourced stem cell schemes

In an article in Cosmos Magazine, the Centre for Stem Cell Systems’ Deputy Director A/Prof Megan Munsie and social scientist Dr Claire Tanner explain the potential harm of crowdfunding for stem cell treatments.

Just as Dr Google has changed how patients and their families access information about healthcare options, online crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe and YouCaring are providing new ways to seek financial support to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.

While these platforms can enable some patients to access established medicines or care that they would otherwise be unable to afford, a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights how crowdsourcing campaigns are also being undertaken to raise funds for unproven interventions such as ‘stem cell’ treatments.

Stem cell science holds great potential for treatments for injury or disease; and while media reports often suggest that stem cell therapies are already available for a wide range of conditions, the reality is that further research is required to develop safe and effective treatments. Moreover, stem cell clinics selling the unproven treatments overstate the ability of stem cells to “heal” and understate the risks involved.

Online crowdsourcing can potentially amplify a false message about access to, and benefit of stem cell treatments, diverting patients from other forms of evidence-based care. Raising awareness of this is critical to avoid the unwitting exploitation of not only those seeking treatment, but those generous donors investing in their healthcare.

About the authors:

A/Prof Megan Munsie and Dr Claire Tanner are key members of the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications research group at the University of Melbourne and the Education, Ethics, Law and Community Awareness Unit at Stem Cells Australia, of which Megan is the Head.

Megan is a stem cell scientist who has made a significant contribution for many years in outreach to the public and advocacy to policy makers around issues associated with stem cell science and its translation to the clinic. Megan’s work is global in scope, grounded in academic research, and relies on her collaborative partnerships with key community and professional groups to address important ethical and regulatory considerations critical to the advancement of the field.

Claire is interested in the sociology of science, the body and health. Her research is focused on enhancing understanding of people’s health experiences and the interventions and technologies they turn to for help, especially for those living with serious health and medical conditions. Claire’s work aims to contribute to the development of more effective and ethical policy and regulatory interventions and healthcare services to directly support people, families and carers managing critical and chronic health conditions.

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Megan Mussie