Kingston clinic slams 'heavy-handed' stem cell therapy ban

A clinic in Kingston, Ont., that had been injecting patients with high concentrations of stem cells until Health Canada told them to stop says there's 'robust' evidence the therapy helps manage pain.

Treatment has relieved pain for osteoarthritis patients, says Dr. Gregory Foster

The director of a Kingston, Ont., clinic recently told by Health Canada to stop offering concentrated stem cell therapies says there's 'robust' evidence those therapies work for patients with musculoskeletal pain. (Shutterstock)

A clinic in Kingston, Ont., that had been injecting patients with high concentrations of stem cells until Health Canada ordered it to stop is criticizing the agency for its "heavy-handedness."

The Kingston Orthopaedic Pain Institute (KOPI) is one of three dozen clinics across the country that have been ordered by Health Canada to cease offering certain stem cell therapies.

It's not easy for me, as a physician, to be called a charlatan and a snake oil salesman.- Dr. Gregory Murphy, KOPI

"This did not develop in a vacuum. There is strong evidence for improved pain control and improved function in orthobiologics," said Dr. Gregory Murphy, KOPI's medical director.

Orthobiologics refers to the use of substances found in the human body to control symptoms and help the healing of tendons, ligaments joints and muscles.

The clinics censured by Health Canada, however, offered patients stem cell-based treatments for a variety of health issues including hair loss, heart problems, eye issues and multiple sclerosis.

"Generally, products using stem cells to cure or treat disease remain at the investigational stage of development," Health Canada said in an email.  "This means that Health Canada has not yet seen enough evidence that they are safe and effective."

'A little bit shocked'

Murphy said KOPI had been giving patients the choice of being injected with bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC), which contains a significantly higher concentration of stem cells than platelet-rich plasma therapies.

KOPI had also been corresponding with Health Canada before the crackdown, he said, keeping the agency informed about how the clinic was using the therapy in an attempt to help it "figure this out."

"They were in contact with us four or five months' prior to the cease-and-desist, and we laid out in a two-page letter exactly what we were doing, in exactly which patient populations," Murphy said.

"We were a little bit shocked that the heavy-handedness came down and said, 'You can no longer do it.'"

We heard this week how Health Canada is cracking down on clinics offering what they claim is stem-cell therapy. 9:44

While the clinic has stopped offering BMAC treatments, it is still providing platelet-rich plasma, which Health Canada did not prohibit.

Three Ottawa clinics were also ordered by Health Canada to stop offering their services.

Evidence 'robust'

Earlier this week Dr. Michael Rudnicki, director of regenerative medicine at The Ottawa Hospital, lauded the Health Canada crackdown, telling CBC Radio's All In A Day there was "absolutely no regenerative effect" to the therapies.

Murphy disputed that claim, noting BMAC therapy worked particularly well for patients with "large joint osteoarthritis," particularly in their knees, hips and shoulders.

He said there was "robust" evidence in his field that the therapy was offering patients pain relief, even if the exact mechanism still needed further study.

"It's sad for us, because we feel like we've been robbed of providing good care with qualified physicians in an inspected, established institution," Murphy said.

"It's not easy for me, as a physician, to be called a charlatan and a snake oil salesman."

With files from Andrew Foote


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