New Delhi, Nov. 15: A private doctor here claims to have beaten the world in exploiting stem cells harvested from human embryos to treat incurable diseases, but scientists and top government officials expressed shock.
Dr Geeta Shroff, a fertility specialist in a private institution, said she had transplanted embryonic stem cells into close to 100 patients suffering from degenerative brain disorders and paralysis.
“The results have been good. Patients have improved. They have had no deterioration and no side effects,” Shroff claimed. She said she had used extra embryos generated by clinics, which offer test-tube baby services, as the source of the stem cells.
“This is shocking,” said Dr Vasantha Muthuswamy, senior deputy director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi.
While Shroff had informed the ICMR that she would conduct studies with embryonic stem cells on patients, the institution had not approved the research, Muthuswamy said. “But the ICMR lacks policing authority.”
“This is wrong, totally undesirable,” said Dr Maharaj Bhan, biotechnology secretary who had only two weeks ago urged tighter controls on stem cell research.
Scientists have been trying to tame embryonic stem cells for years, but nowhere have they been used in humans for treatment yet.
“The biggest negative about embryonic stem cells holding the world back is the risk of teratomas ' tumours,” said Deepa Bhartiya, assistant director at the National Institute of Research in Reproductive Health in Mumbai.
“Researchers worldwide are struggling to get embryonic stem cells ready for human use. No one’s there yet,” Bhartiya said.
“Why hasn’t this work been published in a peer-reviewed journal'”
Shroff said she had presented her work at international research conferences, and was now trying to get her work approved through the peer-review process.
Shroff has claimed that she has a proprietary technique to extract stem cells from human embryos and turn them into specific types of cells in the body. She also said she has multiplied the embryonic stem cells from a single embryo and transplanted them into her patients.
To repair diseased organs, the embryonic stem cells have to turn into specific cell types.
“Nowhere on earth is there a technology today to get 100 per cent specific cell types,” said Satish Totey, director of stem cell research at Manipal Hospital in Bangalore.
Shroff told The Telegraph: “I’ve kept the ICMR informed about this work, but I can’t be expected to release finer details of the technique because it’s intellectual property.”
She said she used stem cells in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and paralysis.
Ajit Jogi, the Congress leader who developed serious ailments after a road accident, said he owed his recovery to Shroff. He could not stand, had problems breathing, had no control over his bladder and his ulcers were festering.
Today Jogi can get up and is even contemplating joining the Manmohan Singh government. Jogi will play second fiddle to her in Delhi tomorrow when Shroff is expected to present the fruits of her research.
“I received some shots from her and one after another, my organs made dramatic improvement. By the grace of God, I am almost normal,” Jogi said.
ICMR officials said information provided by Shroff was not adequate to decide whether to approve the research or not.
Shroff said her institution’s ethics committee had approved her studies and that she has offered to collaborate with government researchers. An ICMR survey earlier this year showed only 40 out of 179 ethics committees in India adhered to guidelines.