Sudbury

Health Canada requests Sudbury clinic stop selling stem cell therapies

A medical clinic in Sudbury has caught the eye of Health Canada for offering 'unauthorized cell therapies.'

The CPSO and Health Canada have been communicating on the larger issue 'for some time'

A medical clinic in Sudbury, Ont. has been told by Health Canada to stop selling stem cell treatments as the federal-agency says it considers the process to be "unauthorized cell therapies."

The Sudbury-based Ontario Stem Cell Treatment Centre was included in a list of businesses across Canada that have been asked to stop selling stem cell and platelet-rich plasma therapies. Both procedures involve taking cells from one part of a patient's body, concentrating them and introducing the concentration elsewhere to promote healing. 

Dr. Scott Barr of the Ontario Stem Cell Treatment Centre is unsure why Health Canada suddenly has a concern with stem cells. 

"I've been transferring cells on patients for 30 years. I've done skin grafts, that's moving skin cells, I've bone grafted fractures, that's moving bone cells," he said, "Health Canada had no problem with these transfers."

In a statement to CBC, Health Canada said it has "not yet seen enough evidence that the [procedures] are safe and effective."

Barr disagrees.

He said that after exhausting all options approved by Health Canada to cure his chronic back pain he received a stem cell treatment in California that solved the issue. He also recounted the story of a patient with Parkinson's disease who went from having difficulty walking to competing against his son in high jump as a result of treatment. 

"Our conversion rate from the people that contact our office to the people that actually go through therapy is only 16 per cent, and that's because we are honest about what we can do for patients and we're very selective about the conditions that we can treat," he said. 

Dr. Scott Barr is the founder of the Ontario Stem Cell Treatment Centre. (Marcus Schwabe/CBC)

Health Canada sent letters to 36 businesses including the Toronto office of the Cleveland Clinic, a Canadian branch of one of the most famous hospitals in the United States. 

In a complicated regulatory framework, it is not Health Canada that oversees the licensing of doctors in the province. That falls under the purview of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

"Should the college receive information that a physician is not complying with a specific direction from Health Canada, we would need to consider what steps to take to ensure that the public is not being put at risk," Carolyn Silver, general counsel for the CPSO said. 

Those steps could include a referral to the college's disciplinary committee and possibly a suspension or revocation of the physician's license to practise.

Barr says he's blindsided by this regulatory crackdown. 

"We met with on a teleconference with Health Canada, with CPSO and with CMPA (Canadian Medical Protective Association) before we started doing this. We are by the book," he said "I'm not defying Health Canada, I'm trying to talk to Health Canada and explain why our situation is different than what they think."

When asked if he is concerned about the position of the CPSO Barr says he will continue to do stem cell treatments.

Have you heard of stem cell or platelet rich plasma therapy? We spoke with a doctor in Sudbury who offers both of them. Health Canada isn't happy about that. Dr. Scott Barr of the Ontario Stem Cell Treatment Centre joined us in studio to explain why he should be allowed to continue to use stem cells to treat his patients. 9:40

About the Author

Matt is a reporter at CBC. You can reach him at matthew.pierce@cbc.ca.

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