"Stem Cells Day 1 After Passage" by UC San Diego Stem Cell Program / CC BY-SA 3.0

The potent effects of Japan’s stem-cell policies

Sep 25, 2019

By David Cyranoski

Tucked away in Tokyo’s trendiest fashion district — two floors above a pricey French patisserie, and alongside nail salons and jewellers — the clinicians at Helene Clinic are infusing people with stem cells to treat cardiovascular disease. Smartly dressed female concierges with large bows on their collars shuttle Chinese medical tourists past an aquarium and into the clinic’s examination rooms.

In a typical treatment at Helene, clinicians take skin biopsies from behind the ear and extract stem cells from the fat tissue within. Then they multiply the cells, infuse them intravenously and, they claim, let them home in on the damage — in this case, arteries stiffened by atherosclerosis.

Two posters on the wall outline promising results backed by major pharmaceutical companies and published in top scientific journals. They lend an air of legitimacy, but neither presents data on treatments offered at the clinic. When pressed for details by a visitor (who did not identify himself as a journalist), a concierge said that she could not offer evidence that Helene’s services are effective at treating the condition, mainly because results vary by patient. She eventually explained that the treatment is more for prevention. “It’s for anti-ageing,” she said.

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