Warning over illegal stem cell treatments in India

The head of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has warned that trial stem cell treatments are being used illegally in the country.

Dr V M Katoch, director general of ICMR – which is involved in the formulation, co-ordination and promotion of biomedical research – made his views clear during a two-day conclave and exhibition on stem cell therapy held at Hyatt Regency in Mumbai over the weekend.

According to India’s Express News Service, Katoch said: “The current guidelines, implemented in 2007, pertain only to research activities.

“But many leading private hospitals across the country are clinically implementing treatments that are still in the trial stage, particularly for neurological disorders.”

He warned that a strong mechanism was needed to curb the cell treatment practices that were being carried out without government accreditation.

Katoch said the only stem cell therapy approved by the ICMR for clinical application was in the area of bone marrow, adding: “Brain tissue regeneration and many umbilical cord blood cell treatments being practised have not been cleared by the Government of India.”

New guidelines are said to be on the way – the Clinical Establishment Bill is due to be passed within six months.

But one senior ICMR official at the India Stem Cell Conclave & India Stem Cell Exhibition 2010 event revealed more worrying facts.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We are trying to negotiate with Health Ministry officials to get the Medical Council of India and the Drugs Controller General of India to establish a regulatory framework for hospitals to provide stem cell therapy.

“At present, the ICMR does not have enough powers to stop such treatments, though we have knowledge of spurious activities.”

Also present at the industry meeting, organised by Asia Knowledge Associates and said to be the first of its kind in India, were major stem cell banking companies, such as Cryo and Stem Cell Biologicals.

Model and actress Lisa Ray – a cancer survivor – was the brand ambassador for the event.

She said: “I am only here because of stem cells. The conclave and exhibition are close to my heart.”