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Costa Rica closes stem cell clinic

8th June 2010

Officials in Costa Rica have decided to close a popular stem cell clinic.

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The clinic was one of many prime destinations for medical tourists who come to Costa Rica from all over the world.

But the Costa Rican health ministry said that there was no evidence that the stem cell clinic was actually treating people.

Ileana Herrera, the research council chief of the health ministry, said that the safety and viability of stem cell treatments was not a sure thing, and that the Costa Rican government hoped its ban would protect people's lives.

David Scadden, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston, said that the clinical trials he had seen for stem cell research seemed ambiguous, and that people marketing the treatments were most likely just exploiting patients.

He said he felt that people were having the treatments based on other people's anecdotes, and not on scientific studies.

Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, who owns the clinic, said that he had not yet received the US Food and Drug Administration's approval for his clinic, and that he believed this was why the Costa Rican health ministry decided to close it.

The health ministry said that the clinic did have a permit for storing adult stem cells, but not one for treating patients.

The tourism sector is the biggest part of the Costa Rican economy, and medical tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of that sector.

Since the clinic was opened in 2006, about 400 people underwent its treatments.

The adult stem cells used in the Costa Rican clinic were harvested from people's umbilical cords and body fat, among other places.

Although Costa Rica is strongly Roman Catholic, adult stem cells can be found in many places in the body, and are not specially prohibited by the Roman Catholic church.

Adult stem cells are a type of 'master cell,' which can give rise to many different types of cell, including blood cells.

They are used in standard leukaemia treatments.

Some of the people who went to the health clinic were very upset about its closing.

Cranston Rodgers, a 67-year-old man from Las Vegas, Nevada, said that he believed the closure was ridiculous.

He said that, after doctors at the clinic treated him for multiple sclerosis, he hadn't needed to use a cane or a scooter.

Other patients who went to the clinic received treatment for spinal injuries and diabetes.

Raul Montejo, age 48, received treatment for his paralysis at the clinic.

He was paralysed from the waist down when his car crashed into a telephone pole.

Montejo said that, due to the treatment he received at the clinic one month ago, he was making very good progress in recovering the use of his legs.

Researchers are also working on stem cell treatments that they hope will one day treat heart disease and Parkinson's disease.

Riordan said that he had seen more 'medical firsts' in the past four years than most people ever saw in their lives.

He has a second company, called Medistem Inc, for commercialising stem cell therapies.

 

 

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