Academic physician specialists’ views toward the unproven stem cell intervention industry: areas of common ground and divergence

Cambray Smith, Aidan Crowley, Megan Munsie, Erin S. DeMartino, Nathan P. Staff, Shane Shapiro, Zubin Master

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Aims: Premature commercialization of unproven stem cell interventions (SCIs) has received significant attention within the regenerative medicine community. Patients considering SCIs may encounter misinformation and seek out guidance from their physicians who are trusted brokers of health information. However, little is known about the perspectives of academic physician specialists toward the SCI industry. The purpose of this study was to capture the attitudes of physician specialists with experience addressing patient questions about unproven SCIs. Methods: The authors undertook 25 semi-structured interviews with academic physicians in cardiology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, pulmonology and neurology primarily from one academic center. Results: The authors identified two major themes: concerns and mediators of appropriateness of offering SCIs as therapies to patients. Specialists were generally aware of the industry and reported scientific and commercial concerns, including the scientific uncertainty of SCIs, medical harms to patients, misleading marketing and its impact on patient informed consent and economic harms due to large out-of-pocket costs for patients. All specialists outside of orthopedics voiced that it was inappropriate to be offering SCIs to patients today. These views were informed by previously expressed concerns surrounding safety and properly informing patients, levels of evidence needed prior to offering SCIs therapeutically and desired qualifications for clinicians. Among the specialties, orthopedists reported that under certain conditions, SCIs may be appropriate for patients with limited clinical options but only when safety is adequate, expectations are managed and patients are well informed about the risks and chances of benefit. Most participants expressed a desire for phase 3 studies and Food and Drug Administration approval prior to marketing SCIs, but some also shared the challenges associated with upholding these thresholds of evidence, especially when caring for out-of-option patients. Conclusions: The authors’ results suggest that medical specialists are aware of the industry and express several concerns surrounding SCIs but differ in their views on the appropriateness and clinical evidence necessary for offering SCIs currently to patients. Additional educational tools may help physicians with patient engagement and expectation management surrounding SCIs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-356
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • ethics
  • evidence
  • physician perspectives
  • qualitative research
  • responsible translation
  • unproven stem cell interventions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Oncology
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Transplantation
  • Cancer Research


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