Woman sues over stem cell treatment

JAPAN - A 69-year-old woman has filed a damage suit against a doctor and a director at a clinic in Tokyo, claiming she suffered serious psychological pain after receiving regenerative medicine treatment using stem cells without sufficient explanation of the side effects.

The woman, a Hyogo Prefecture resident, is seeking about ¥6.4 million (S$80,512) in the damages suit filed Friday at the Tokyo District Court, which includes compensation for mental suffering. In the claim, she says the clinic failed to provide sufficient explanations about the treatment's effectiveness and side effects.

A lawyer for the woman said lawsuits are rarely filed over problems involving regenerative medicine.

According to her court claim and other documents, the woman visited the clinic in June last year complaining of numbness over her whole body, as the clinic advertised regenerative medicine treatments that were claimed to cure intractable diseases.

"It's safe," the doctor at the clinic was quoted by the woman as saying. "Another patient with numbness recovered in the past."

Because of her age, the woman was recommended a treatment using adipose-derived stem cells taken from a young researcher. In July last year, she received a drip infusion at home, through which adipose-derived stem cells were injected into her arm. The treatment cost about ¥1.34 million.

Although it is unknown whether there is a causal relation, the numbness in her limbs began worsening around October last year, and now she needs a walker.

The doctor who treated the woman said: "I introduced the method as one option that might improve her condition, though the effects were not guaranteed. I didn't offer explanations emphasizing its effectiveness."

Regenerative medicine treatment using adipose-derived stem cells is widely provided mainly by private medical institutions at the patients' own expense and at doctors' discretion. Some doctors claim the method can even cure diabetes and heart diseases.

Three years ago, a fatal medical accident occurred using the method. However, there are still no regulations on its use.

As the effectiveness of the method is not clear, the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine has issued warnings stating that people should not casually undergo such treatment.

The government aims to pass a bill during the current Diet session that would make it mandatory for medical institutions providing regenerative treatment with stem cells to register with the government.

The stem cells in question develop to be adipose cells, which scientists have discovered can develop to become the cells of heart muscles, bones and various other bodily components.

The method became popular after equipment capable of extracting stem cells from adipose was developed.

Since then, an increasing number of medical institutions worldwide began claiming that treatment using adipose-derived stem cells can cure diabetes and various other diseases.