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Appl Transl Genom. 2013 May 14;2:22-27. eCollection 2013 Dec 1.

Curbing stem cell tourism in South Africa.

Author information

1
Department of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.

Abstract

Stem cells have received much attention globally due in part to the immense therapeutic potential they harbor. Unfortunately, malpractice and exploitation (financial and emotional) of vulnerable patients have also drawn attention to this field as a result of the detrimental consequences experienced by some individuals that have undergone unproven stem cell therapies. South Africa has had limited exposure to stem cells and their applications and, while any exploitation is detrimental to the field of stem cells, South Africa is particularly vulnerable in this regard. The current absence of adequate legislation and the inability to enforce existing legislation, coupled to the sea of misinformation available on the Internet could lead to an increase in illegitimate stem cell practices in South Africa. Circumstances are already precarious because of a lack of understanding of concepts involved in stem cell applications. What is more, credible and easily accessible information is not available to the public. This in turn cultivates fears born out of existing superstitions, cultural beliefs, rituals and practices. Certain cultural or religious concerns could potentially hinder the effective application of stem cell therapies in South Africa and novel ways of addressing these concerns are necessary. Understanding how scientific progress and its implementation will affect each individual and, consequently, the community, will be of cardinal importance to the success of the fields of stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine in South Africa. A failure to understand the ethical, cultural or moral ramifications when new scientific concepts are introduced could hinder the efficacy and speed of bringing discoveries to the patient. Neglecting proper procedure for establishing the field would lead to long delays in gaining public support in South Africa. Understanding the dangers of stem cell tourism - where vulnerable patients are subjected to unproven stem cell therapies that have not undergone peer review or been registered with the relevant local authorities - becomes imperative so that strategies to overcome this threat can be implemented.

KEYWORDS:

Exploitation; Legislation; Malpractice; Personalized medicine; Regulation; Stem cell research; Stem cell tourism; Vulnerable patients

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