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Overseas stem cell treatments present benefits and risks

American doctors admit that stem cell treatments and other regenerative medicine may have a lot of potential to treat a variety of ailments and injuries. Stem cells contain a regenerative quality that can help form new tissue, but there are still a lot of questions about how and when to use them. While American doctors and researchers are hesitant to recommend treatments that are still experimental, many patients are eager to try possible therapies to treat their serious conditions, such as spinal cord injuries.

Many of these practices are not available here in the United States and a doctor at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami cautions undergoing treatments in risky, unregulated environments. Seeking experimental stem cell therapies overseas may bring about more unknown, negative side effects than medical progress.

But leaving the country for medical treatment is a growing trend. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions estimated that the number of people seeking medical treatment overseas is projected to shoot up by 35 percent per year. Some popular destinations for stem cell treatments are Germany, Thailand and Panama.

Just as medical professionals have documented successful procedures overseas, they have also recorded disastrous ones, including fatal and near-fatal reactions.

Part of the problem with seeking these treatments overseas is that there are no doctors back in the United States that can follow up on the procedures and ensure there are no complications.

Anyone that has suffered a serious accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury would understandably be willing to take a risk in order to regain some of the freedom taken by his or her accident. Going to the doctor only to find out there is nothing an American doctor can do is frustrating, especially when there are reports of spinal cord rehabilitations abroad. It is important to discuss these possibilities with both a doctor and a lawyer in order to get a more complete understanding of risk and liability.

Source: CNN, "Experts caution against stem cell treatments abroad," Elizabeth Landau, Sept. 22, 2011

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