A Delhi-based doctor's claim of having produced and purified stem cells from human embryos to treat incurable diseases does not have many takers in the British medical fraternity.
The Guardian reported Friday that experts here have called on Indian authorities to impose tighter curbs on clinics in India that make extravagant claims about the use of embryonic stem cells.
The doctor whose claims have evoked some concern here is Geeta Shroff, who, in the early 90s had hit the headlines by reportedly developing a technique for determining a baby's sex while in the womb without taking a scan.
Shroff, who runs a genetic research facility and hospital in south Delhi, now claims to have treated over 100 terminally ill patients with stem cell therapy.
Shroff told the newspaper: 'My patients often have no other choice. I am their last chance.' The report quoted some patients who claimed improvement in their medical conditions.
According to Stephen Minger, director of the King's College London's stem cell biology laboratory: 'It is highly implausible and frankly downright dangerous. If the Indian government wants to promote stem cell research, it needs to seriously look at regulation of these doctors and if necessary close them down.'
An editorial in the British Medical Journal this year warned that Indian authorities needed to act to 'prevent the escalating numbers of clinics offering stem cell cures for all sorts of ills'.
Minger told the daily: 'Only one team in the world, from the American firm Geron, is pushing for clinical trials and that is a very well understood, specific application for spinal cord injury. And we have concerns with that. This doctor has not published a peer-reviewed paper. How can one independently verify the results?'
The report quoted Shroff as saying that patients from the US and Britain were going to her for treatment, and that her therapy appeared to consist of injecting a clear liquid, containing millions of cells cultivated from a human egg, into a bicep or base of the spine. Shroff said her embryos were obtained with consent.
Researchers in Britain say stem cell therapies are a decade away. They add that in the West and advanced economies of Asia, there are legal constraints that keep scientists from rushing ahead with treatments before they have been 'thoroughly tested for safety and effectiveness'.
Alison Murdoch, of Newcastle University Fertility Centre, which made headlines in May by cloning embryos, told the newspaper: 'Desperate patients might be tempted, but false hope is not hope. There are all sorts of ethical issues that this kind of unregulated work throws up. There are no animal tests, no checks on where the embryos are coming from.'
The report said Shroff had defended her actions by saying that everything she did was within India's guidelines and that she had informed the authorities.
'Everything I have done has been notified to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and there has been no comeback,' she told the newspaper.
The ICMR said it had been informed but had not given consent.
The report quoted Prasanna Hota, a top civil servant in India's health ministry, as saying: 'We have our concerns and worries about Dr Shroff's work.'