Move aimed at preventing misuse of potentially-powerful technology and discouraging claims of unproven benefits

Google ‘stem cell therapy’ and a whole host of results show up. Stem cell therapy for hair loss, diabetes, cancer and practically everything else. It is touted as the medicine of hope, the panacea for all ills.

But to ensure that this potentially-powerful technology is not misused in the country, the Indian Council of Medical Research has come up with a set of guidelines to regulate their use.

Under the new guidelines, any use of stem cells in patients will be considered research, not therapy.

This means stem cells can now only be used on patients within the purview of an approved, and monitored clinical trial — anything outside of this would be considered malpractice. Ananthram Shetty, professor of minimally-invasive surgery at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, said the guidelines are much-needed, welcome move in the right direction.

Prof. Shetty, who has been working with stem-cell technology for 27 years, and is often in India to demonstrate their use in research surgeries, said this would prevent anybody and everybody from claiming unproven benefits. “Lots of people don’t really understand what stem cells are. And those who have a terminal illness are willing to try anything. There are some people who use this to raise false hopes. And this is what the guidelines seek to stop,” he said.

J.S. Rajkumar, chairman, Lifeline Hospital, however, said the guidelines could have been clearer about the use of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells, he said. Now, the procedures involved and the time it would take could dissuade many, he said, while there is a real need for funds to be pumped in for research into this technology.

Another International Ear Care Day passed by on March 3.

It spelled out a clear message — ear care can avoid hearing loss.

But the question is how many people know how to take care of their ears. What is interesting is the ear is a self-cleaning organ and does not require any kind of cleaning. But many clean their ears using safety pins, hair pins and even matchsticks.

While doctors advise against the use of such objects, they discourage the use of cotton buds too. “Some heat coconut oil and pour into the ears. This could cause fungal infections. The ear drum is very thin and can be damaged, leading to loss of hearing,” said M. Ramaniraj, professor of ENT, Government Stanley Medical College Hospital.

Mothers too should refrain from cleaning the ears of babies. If an insect goes into the ear, seek medical help instead of trying something on your own, said K. Ravi, ENT professor, Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital.

It is the increasing use of mobile phones and earphones that worries doctors as constant exposure to loud sounds can affect hearing.

(Reporting by Zubeda Hamid and Serena Josephine M.)

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