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Medical regulators have been warning that the downside of unproven stem cell treatments isn’t merely that they won’t work, but that they can be life-threatening.

A team of Canadian physicians has just reported an especially gruesome example of what can go wrong when desperate patients chase after last-ditch cures in what’s known as stem cell tourism. Their subject is a 38-year-old Newfoundland man who became a paraplegic after a trampoline accident at the age of 20 injured his spinal column.

Six years later, he traveled to Portugal for a stem cell treatment. Doctors there transplanted olfactory mucosal cells drawn from his upper nasal passages into the site of his spinal injury. He never got better, but years later started getting worse.

Doctors at Memorial University of Newfoundland discovered that the olfactory cells had never differentiated into neuronal cells, as the Portuguese clinic apparently expected, but kept growing on their own, producing a tumor of nasal cells that’s now too large to be surgically removed.

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Los Angeles Times

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