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a blond a pale skin sits in a diaper on the bed in a doctors office. A doctor with only his arm in frame puts a stethoscope to their back.

For several years, parents of autistic children have paid between $10,000 and $15,000 to have their children undergo unproven stem cell and cord blood treatments at Duke University, through what’s called an expanded access program, or EAP. That practice has attracted criticism from observers and ethicists in the stem cell field, who have asked why Duke was charging money for a service when its own clinical trials have not been very promising. In recent months, Duke has sent letters informing parents that this program is no longer available to autistic children—raising new questions about what those parents, who’d been led to believe the treatment might be a panacea for their kids, will do instead. 

One of the more urgent questions is whether parents who can’t access the treatment though Duke will instead go to a for-profit partner with ties to the school. That would be Cryo-Cell International, which previously announced that it had entered into a licensing agreement with Duke allowing it to offer the same stem cell infusions in private, for-profit clinics the company has said it plans to...