Thailand's medical council okays 11 stem-cell studies

The Medical Council has given the green light for medical schools to conduct 11 types of stem-cell research with the aim of finding clues for regenerative medication.

Since the council issued a regulation to tighten control over controversial stem-cell research in 2010, approval has been sought for some 17 studies.

But the council has approved only 11 studies, which will include research into the most common diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, retina irregularities and the spinal chord, Dr Somsak Lohlekha, who chairs the council's stem-cell research regulatory panel, said.

Separately, the council has been asked to certify two other studies related to heart disease as standard treatment, but it has put them on hold due to opposition from Thailand's Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Surgeons.

"These two medical colleges found that patients with heart disease did not feel any better after getting stem-cell injections," Somsak said.

Moreover, stem-cell treatment for heart disease had yet to be accepted by the international medical community as standard treatment.

"We found that many patients spent more than a million baht for this treatment and their condition did not improve," he said.

Of the 11 stem-cell studies approved by the council, one is being conducted at the Police General Hospital. The research team, led by Pol.Mai.Gen Dr Thana Turajane, has succeeded in developing adult stem cells derived from blood that can develop into cartilage tissue and be used to treat arthritis. It can also be used to culture a new set of stem cells.

Thana and his team had to wait more than nine months for a go-ahead from the Medical Council. In their application, they included a report on animal trials done by a Malaysian university to show that the use of stem cells was safe.

The hospital is now conducting clinical trials on 60 arthritis patients aged between 45 and 60, which should be completed next year.

Director of the Police General Hospital, Lt-General Jongjet Aojanepong, said the institute had set a five-year plan for stem-cell research and expected to have anti-ageing treatment by 2017.

It plans to extend its stem-cell studies to cover diabetes, heart and coronary disease, and also plans to create bio-printing for organ replacement.

"We plan to use stem-cell treatment in the next decade," Jongjet said.

Stem-cell research is not only popular in the medical field but is booming in the field of cosmetics, even though the Medical Council has said it will never give approval for stem-cell research for cosmetic purposes.

Somsak said even though the council strictly controlled stem-cell research, some physicians and scientists were still conducting illegal research on cosmetic uses.

However, he said, the council had not received any complaints about the misuse of stem-cell treatment because it was strictly regulated.