THIS IS in reference to the latest Department of Health warning on the use of stem cells from aborted fetuses (“DOH warns against use of stem cells from aborted babies,” Inquirer, 11/11/12). It is my humble opinion as a Filipino medical practitioner that the most logical and effective way for the DOH to fulfill its function of protecting and safeguarding the health of Filipino patients from dubious stem cell treatment is to immediately impose a moratorium on stem cell therapy in the country.
In developed countries, novel stem cell treatment can only be tried on patients under a strict clinical trial environment. For example, if one tries to treat cancer or diabetes mellitus with stem cells using a protocol not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), one has to submit first to the US FDA voluminous scientific documents supporting or justifying the trial, based on pre-clinical studies. The trial is undertaken only after approval by the US FDA and institutional review boards, and usually the patients are treated for free or at a minimal patient expense. The treatment protocol is also open for review and the treatment results, both positive and negative, are meticulously monitored, reported and preferably published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
In the Philippines, some medical centers are currently giving stem cell treatment for a variety of conditions that had not been approved by the US FDA. The DOH mentioned that they will just be regulating and monitoring these centers (or the quality of their stem cells), but it is not saying anything yet about stopping the practice of delivering unproven stem cell treatments. I respectfully believe that this is the wrong approach and that it is paramount that the DOH should prioritize the safety and interests of Filipino patients rather than the financial interests of hospitals and doctors who have already invested in the technology. Of course, those few stem cell treatments that are approved by the US FDA (some blood cancers, prostatic cancer, etc.) should be the only ones allowed to continue for now until the DOH finalizes its regulatory guidelines.
—JOSE A. AGUILAR, M.D., consultant,
Philippine Children’s Medical Center,