An Injection a Day

Premature promises about cell therapies create expectations ripe for disappointment

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

The phrase “an apple a day” has been referred to as everything from a proverb to a superstition to a Prohibition-era marketing slogan (if people can’t drink apple whiskey, encourage them to eat apples). 

While multiple theories about its origin exist, the prevailing one says the phrase dates back to 1866, when it appeared in an academic correspondence magazine as, “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” Eventually, the phrase evolved to the more succinct version we are all familiar with: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” 

Whichever way you spin it, it’s a pretty bold claim for 19th century medicine. While knowledge of the healthful properties of apples can be traced as far back as ancient Rome, there existed no clinical evidence in the 1860s (or now) that eating an apple could help a person completely avoid any and all medical issues.

Small fruit, big promises. Currently the same can be said for cell therapies. Around the world, there are clinics making dramatic claims about cure-all cell-based treatments, promising to heal everything from injured joints to multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s. The problem is, the treatments they are using have not gone through regulated clinical trials. And as the unproven cell therapy market continues to grow, more and more patients are investing large amounts of money and the majority are walking away uncured.

Despite solid efforts from several industry groups, patients are still confused about the difference between unproven and proven cell therapies. If this confusion isn’t addressed, it could become a problem that could ultimately stall research on legitimate cell therapy cures and discredit an entire industry on the brink of booming. As you’ll read in this month’s cover story, this is a fight worth waging, and pharma needs to join forces with those already invested in the battle and helping educate patients about what cell therapies can and cannot offer.

Over a century after the apple-a-day phrase was coined, there has been legitimate research applied to the theory. Actual scientific studies have linked the consumption of apples with reduced risk of some cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. In a lab setting, apples have been found to have strong antioxidant activity, inhibit cancer cell reproduction and lower cholesterol. But even with all the proven benefits of apple consumption, an apple still does not guarantee anyone a doctor-free life.

Much to the relief of apple farmers and doctors alike, apples have seemingly survived a few overly enthusiast medical claims. But most promises made without regulated, scientific backing are likely to end in disappointment. And for emerging fields such as cell therapy, this disappointment can have dangerous and damaging consequences. It’s more important than ever for the pharma industry to add its voice to the conversation, and make sure a few bad apples don’t spoil the whole regenerative bunch. 

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