3M in Discredited Stem-Cell Funding Earmarked for Rare Diseases

May 2, 2014

Rome, April 16 – Three million euros due to be spent on the discredited ‘Stamina’ stem-cell treatment should be diverted to rare-disease research, Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said Wednesday.

“If the results of the first scientific committee are confirmed the three million euros foreseen for experimenting on Stamina will be made available for research into rare diseases,” the minister told a group of rare-disease patients she met at the Rome Polyclinic Hospital. Earlier this month local health authorities in Brescia decided to suspend Stamina treatments on grounds they were fraudulent.

Italy’s health ministry announced in October that the Stamina Foundation– the foundation that developed the treatment- would not be allowed to test it on humans. The foundation was also stripped of its non-profit status after a study found its treatment was “ignorant of stem-cell biology.” The head of the foundation, Davide Vannoni, a former psychology lecturer, was indicted earlier this year for alleged attempted fraud against the Piedmont Region.

The Stamina Foundation had asked for 500,000 euros of funding to develop a stem-cell laboratory, a request prosecutors argue was fraudulent because the efficacy of the treatment has been “completely disproved.” The Stamina treatment involves extracting bone-marrow stem cells from a patient, turning them into neurons by exposing them to retinoic acid for two hours, and injecting them back into the patient.

Supporters of the therapy thought it could be a cure for fatal degenerative nerve diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy, while detractors said it was devoid of scientific merit. A panel of experts appointed by Italy’s health ministry said in January it found the therapy seriously lacking in both premise and practice.

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