By Noushaba T. Rashid

Elena Cattaneo and Gilberto Corbellini are working hard to protect patients from fraudulent stem-cell therapies. Recently in Italy, clinical standards were threatened and the healthcare system and patients wanted to fight for evidence based medicine.
The Stamina Foundation is a private organization, which was founded in Italy in 2009. They claim that stem cells collected from human bone marrow can be transformed into neural cells. Davide Vannoni, the founder, is not a trained scientist or physician. He claims that these cell injections will help treat Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy and many more. He has no peer-reviewed literature and has moved his lab outside of Italy where regulations may be more lax.

Though Italy’s national health services paid for some of these procedures, many scientists and government officials have found that Stamina is severely flawed and their treatment has no backing. Stem-cell specialists and others have publicly spoken out against these treatments warning many. Those against Stamina don’t want desperate patients to be exploited by these false claims of hope.

These claims first became known in the summer of 2012. The Italian Medicines Agency shut down Stamina’s operations at a hospital in Brescia, because of safety. However, patients responded with lawsuits demanding the treatment to be allowed and that the government should also pay for anyone with terminal illness. In august of 2012, the Italian court ruled that the treatment should be administered in the hospital.
However, in the winter of 2012, Cattaneo and Corbellini began informing patients, politicians and the press that this method lacked any kind of evidence and credibility. There was no scientific evidence that these methods should be used.

This however backlashed. Because of Stamina’s large presence, people thought the pair was trying to keep life helping treatments away from children. They then went to trial. In may of 2013, the government promised to pay for clinical trials. This way, they could prove that the cells were dangerous and should not be injected into children.

With support from the international community, they proved their cause to try and stop Stamina and other similar groups. They had support from the International Society for Stem Cell research and also from Nobel laureate and stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka. The European Court ruling and more investigations by the senate will hopefully shut down Stamina and any other group making false claims about stem cell therapy.

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