Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Coffee, tea, or a teaspoon of stem cells?

A few years ago, I had surgery that, although could be considered cosmetic, in my case was determined medically necessary and thus covered by my group health insurance from my job.

Fast forward a few years, to when that same job was out-sourced to a third-world country along with my access to health insurance. Would I have undergone the surgery; a surgery that is not life-threatening but in my case definitely life-enhancing?

A growing phenomenon might make my decision easier, or at least a bit titillating.

Medical tourism, a phrase coined to describe a destination vacation coupled with medical treatment sounds as innocuous as tying the knot with a destination wedding.

Websites offer images of sunning on a white sand beach, sipping island drinks and tasting tidbits of exotic foods, while recovery from surgery done at a clinic in Thailand, Argentina, India, or Singapore. Feeling better tomorrow? Tour the local sites and do some shopping.
  • Affordability (lower labor costs)
  • Access to treatments that are not available at home (good by regulations)
  • Fun! (hey, we all need medical treatment sooner or later, why not make lemonade?)
If one is 'adventurous' to embark on these high-stake 'vacations', more power to you. I just hope you have a plan B.

The wonder, excitement, and hope that surround the potential of stem-cell based therapies also puts the most vulnerable of us into peril.

When realized, stem-cell therapies will address the diseases and conditions that have no or minimal prevention, treatment, and cure. Oh glorious day!

Abnormal will become normal again: The paralyzed limb will flex its fine motor neurons, opening and closing fingers. The discombobulated brain will cognate again in Einsteinian precision. Normal is normal is normal is everything,

Unscrupulous 'travel agents' advertise stem cell-based therapy cures for spinal cord, stroke, brain injuries, and so on.

See the Kremlin. Have an injection of stem cells. Reverse the paralysis.

As in any con that reels in the desperate and vulnerable, medical tourism is a high-tech form of selling snake oil.

  • That there is no verifiable stem-cell based therapy as of yet for these conditions doesn't matter. (A spinal cord clinical trial is due to start soon)
  • That most embryonic stem cell research has been done on animal models and needs to be transferred to the human model and then sent to the multi-phased clinical trials period doesn't matter. (There are differences between mice and man)
  • That quality control and effective measurements to determine if the therapy is working need to be in place doesn't matter. (Heparin from China, anyone)
Back to my original question: Would I have undergone the surgery; a surgery that is not life-threatening but in my case definitely life-enhancing?

As much as I want our days to become normal again, I understand the scientific process and the myriad problems that need to be solved before stem cell therapies will be.

Impatient? Yes. Reckless? No.

So my answer to my question is, just book me on a simple, old-fashioned vacation. I'll wait-impatiently-for stem cell therapies to work their way through the scientific process. I won't just be waiting, but I'll be advocating, educating, and learning, putting medical vacations a long weekend at home.


Anonymous said...

But couldn't you argue that if enough people go on these vacations, that might prove to be an economic incentive for the U.S. to change its stance and embrace stem cell procedures (that is, to avoid having so much money leaving the States)? Money talks, so they say.

lindaland said...

Yes, indeed that can be an effective argument. Additionally, states such as Wisconsin and California often make that same argument. Do the research in my state, and let us benefit from the technology dollar-wise and health-cure-potential -wise.