About Stem Cell Therapies

There is a good deal of information about stem cell therapies available online, but not all of it is accurate or unbiased. OIRM does not endorse any treatment and we recommend patients and/or caregivers speak with their doctor or specialist before deciding to participate in a clinical trial or choosing an unapproved therapy.

In this section:

What are stem cell therapies?

A stem cell therapy is any treatment that uses stem cells as the primary way of curing or reducing the severity of a disease or disorder. There are two main ways stem cells can be used: 1) as a transplant, where the desired stem cells are harvested either from the patient or a donor and refined or modified in some way before being injected or grafted into the patient, or 2) as a target for a drug or other biologic, where the drug or biologic is intended to activate a desired response from the stem cells that already exist in the patient’s tissues or organs.

Watch this short video to learn more

What therapies are currently available?

The most common form of stem cell treatment available today is bone marrow transplant (also called hematopoietic stem cell transplant), which is most often used to treat blood conditions such as leukemia or lymphoma, and is also showing promise in the treatment of certain forms of autoimmune disease. There are also treatments available for certain, bone, skin and eye illnesses or injuries.

In Canada, all new therapies, including stem cell therapies, must be approved by Health Canada before they can be offered in a hospital or clinical setting. All other treatments are considered experimental or unproven.

How close are we to new therapies?

Research is very promising for many conditions and newly approved therapies are certain in the near future. While it may seem like it takes a long time, it is important that new therapies meet all the requirements of Health Canada before they can be approved for use in hospitals or the clinical setting. This process includes proving the treatment is both safe and effective in humans.

To learn about the current state of research for a range of more common conditions, please review the summaries available on the EuroStemCell website.

What is an unapproved therapy?

An unapproved therapy is one that has not gone through the safety and efficacy process through clinical trials. Quite often, unapproved therapies have no published research to show how they work and charge fees for treatment. Learn more about unapproved therapies:

Patient Booklet published in 2014 by the Faculty of Law, University of Alberta, Albany Medical College and the Stem Cell Network
A Closer Look at Stem Cell Treatments – published by the International Society for Stem Cell Research
EuroStemCell – films, FAQs and fact sheets created by EuroStemCell
Australian Stem Cell Handbook – published by Stem Cells Australia

What questions should I ask if I am considering a stem cell therapy?

There can be risks to both clinical trials and to unapproved therapies and it is your right to have a full explanation of these risks, expected outcomes, as well as the treatment protocol and the science behind it. Knowing what to ask is an important step in deciding whether a stem cell therapy is right for you. We recommend the question guides listed below:

Stem Cell Treatments: What to Ask – published by the International Society for Stem Cell Research
It Stars With Me – published by the Network of Networks
Australian Stem Cell Handbook – published by Stem Cells Australia

If I get an unapproved stem cell therapy now, will I still be eligible for treatment when they are approved?

If you choose to participate in a clinical trial, follow-up care should be part of treatment protocol, including care for any adverse reactions. This is not always true for unapproved therapies, where follow-up may incur additional costs or may not be provided at all. Receiving a treatment outside of Canada may also mean that any follow-up is not covered by health insurance, and may make you ineligible to participate in clinical trials or receive approved treatments in Canada once they become available. Learn more about post-treatment considerations:

Patient Booklet published in 2014 by the Faculty of Law, University of Alberta, Albany Medical College and the Stem Cell Network