Covid-19 and ‘stem cell’ research: Does the hype match the reality?

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RESEARCHERS highlight the dangers of misinformation on cell-based treatments for Covid-19.

Most of the treatments are in the early stages and require further tests until they are proven effective.

The researchers say that science communicators should not exaggerate findings from preliminary studies and that they should engage with the public on these matters directly.

They also call for more stringent regulations on those who promote and sell unproven, unlicensed, and potentially harmful medical products.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a sense of urgency to generate new drugs and vaccines.

In many cases, this urgency became a “regulatory opportunity” to bypass established regulatory pathways for new drugs.

While this has led to the fast emergence of many useful drugs and vaccines for Covid-19, it has also led to a general reduction in the quality of medical research from which to derive conclusions.

For example, according to Janet Woodcock, former director of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, an FDA analysis found that “6% of clinical trials are yielding results the agency deems actionable.”

The lack of regulation coupled with a sense of urgency has also led to overhype and rushed development of certain treatments, including cell-based therapies often sold as “stem cell” treatments.

While some of these products have undergone well-designed, adequately controlled trials, most are in the early stages.

Some clinics are nevertheless offering these unproven and unlicensed treatments to people, promising to boost their immune system or overall health to protect against COVID-19.

Promoting and selling unproven and unlicensed treatments can harm public health and could lead many to undergo untested and potentially harmful treatments.

Recently, a group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University at Buffalo, NY, and the University of Melbourne in Australia, published a report outlining misinformation around cell-based treatments for COVID-19, calling for their stronger regulation.

Efforts to rapidly develop therapeutic interventions should never occur at the expense of the ethical and scientific standards that are at the heart of responsible clinical research and innovation.

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