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Stem cell scientists appear to have oversold their product. In debates a decade ago, scientists, foundations and patient advocacy groups spoke glibly of cures for chronic diseases which would come after embryonic stem cell research was legalised. They made a rod for their own back.

The cures have been slow in coming, but not the hucksters, charlatans and snake-oil salesmen. According to a paper in BMC Medical Ethics by Kirstin Matthews, of Rice University, and Ana Iltis, of Wake Forest University, disillusioned patients, tired of waiting for the cures they were promised, are seeking unproven stem cell-based treatments that are causing more harm than good.

The continued marketing and use of experimental stem cell-based interventions inside and outside the United States is problematic and unsustainable.

The rise in stem cell tourism is a recent phenomenon, write Matthews and Ilitis. Scientists have long envisioned their stem cell research would lead to cures in the near future. In 2004, patient-advocate groups were major players in helping pass and implement significant public policy and funding initiatives in stem cells and regenerative... see more