A/Prof Megan Munsie featured in ABC Radio report on unproven stem cell treatments

What you should know about the rise of non-evidence-based treatments.

Stem cell treatments involve the use of unspecialised cells – stem cells – to repair or replace other cells in the body that are lost through disease or injury. But while stem cells hold great promise and have revolutionised the treatment of some severe conditions, the safety and efficacy of many stem cell therapies are yet to be established.

The ABC Far North Queensland report investigated the rise of Australians seeking these expensive treatments overseas. Parents are increasingly considering unproven stem cell treatments offered by clinics overseas as a last resort for children living with debilitating and difficult-to-treat conditions, who have exhausted other treatment options.

But while such treatments provide hope for families in desperate circumstances, Associate Professor Munsie, deputy director of the Centre for Stem Cell Systems, is concerned about the significant gap between what these clinics promise and actual outcomes.

“One of my biggest challenges in this field is the fact that stem cells are somehow seen as magical,” she said.

“It’s an example of non-evidence-based practice that’s gone mainstream.”

Tighter regulations implemented by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in June are helping to protect local consumers from the potential harms of unproven treatments. However, while these controls have greatly restricted which stem cell therapies can be legally performed in Australia, they have no jurisdiction over those seeking treatment overseas.

“Our responsibility as a research community is to try to contextualise the science and paint a clearer picture about where exactly we are,” Professor Munsie said.

“Unfortunately, that means most of those conversations start with a disclaimer that we don’t have any proven treatments for that condition.”

Read the full ABC report here.

Read more about Associate Professor Munsie and the regulation of unproven stem cell treatments here.