Gordie Howe's care in Mexico questioned by McMaster cancer expert

A McMaster stem cell expert warns that hockey great Gordie Howe may not be experiencing a miracle cure. Gordie Howe's son says the hockey legend's stroke symptoms have improved since his treatment with stem cells at a Mexican clinic in early December and he wants him to repeat the procedure.

McMaster stem cell expert warns about so-called miracle cure for Gordie Howe in Mexico

A McMaster stem cell expert warns that hockey great Gordie Howe may not be experiencing a medical, miracle cure. 

Gordie Howe's son says the hockey legend's stroke symptoms have improved since his treatment with stem cells at a Mexican clinic in early December and he wants him to repeat the procedure.

But Mick Bhatia, director of McMaster University's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute warns there's no scientific evidence that such therapies work, and in some cases they can be seriously harmful or even deadly.

Bhatia cautions that most so-called stem cell therapies have not gone through rigorous scientific trials, nor have they been approved as treatments by Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Is this a transient effect, or is it really a perceived or somewhat of a placebo effect and is there something really happening? Scientifically and biologically that is important," Bhatia said Wednesday from Hamilton.

The 86-year-old Howe suffered two disabling strokes late last year. In December, the family took him to a Tijuana clinic where he received stem cell injections as part of a clinical trial being run under a licensing agreement with Stemedica Cell Technologies of San Diego, Calif.

Gordie Howe can walk again, speech improving son says

Marty Howe said his father can walk again, his speech is improving and he is regaining some of the weight he lost following the strokes.

"They call it the miracle of stem cells and it was nothing less than a miracle," he told The Canadian Press while in Calgary for a hockey promotion event Tuesday.

Bhatia said the Internet is rife with stories of so-called stem cell tourism, where patients desperate for treatments to alleviate such conditions as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and blindness have paid tens of thousands of dollars for unproven therapies at unregulated clinics in such countries as China, Mexico and Poland.

Michael Rudnicki, scientific director of Canada's Stem Cell Network, said some patients have suffered adverse effects from some procedures. While he can't speak specifically about Stemedica or Clinica Santa Clarita in Tijuana, where Howe was treated, Rudnicki is blunt in his assessment of many of these clinics.

"This is real snake oil ... The whole design of these clinics is to separate money from patients by hyping hope, and it's very harmful."

When it comes to Howe, Rudnicki said it's not clear how much the retired hockey great has improved or whether the stem cell treatment was responsible.

"The only way to show efficacy is by undertaking clinical trials in a controlled, rigorous way and to publish the data."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?