Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Americans Flocking to Costa Rica for Stem Cell Treatments

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Dr. Orlando Morales is something of a celebrity at Costa Rica's University of Medical Science, sauntering through the halls in his white lab coat. On a recent walk, students and faculty greeted him with "Feliz cumpleanos, doctor." He just turned 68.

With the excitement of a young doctor fresh out of medical school, Morales' eyes light up when he observes the petri dishes that harvest "celulas madre," or stem cells, from mice.

"It's practically science fiction," Morales said of what he considers the medicine's new miracle worker. Morales is one of the firmest believers around in the power of stem cell treatments.

"After a heart attack, they can begin to make new tissue. In a gland, which for example has to make insulin, the cells begin to create insulin. Nervous tissue, they regenerate it … It's a panacea," he said.

An increasing number of foreigners are undergoing stem cell treatment in Costa Rica for ailments from bone fractures to multiple sclerosis. Costa Rican doctors say they are providing these medical tourists with groundbreaking treatments. But stem cell scientists in the U.S. accuse Costa Rica of offering false hope by pushing techniques that have not been scientifically proven.


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