Ajay Kuriyan, MD: Educating Patients on Stem Cells


Ajay Kuriyan, MD, discusses what he warns patients to be aware of when seeking out treatment from stem cell therapies and why he believes other physicians should as well.

When confronted with the idea that they may be going blind as a result of an ophthalmic condition, some patients are willing to go to great lengths, including partaking in unapproved treatments, in an effort to preserve their eyesight. 

One of the more prominent, and sometimes dangerous, unapproved treatments is stem cell therapies. With a mass of unchecked information about stem cells available on the internet, Ajay Kuriyan, MD, feels it is important to educate patients on the current reality of stem cells and potential dangers that could come along with some clinics. 

Kuriyan, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, sat down with MD Magazine® at the 2019 American Society of Retina Specialists Annual Meeting to discuss how he educates his patients and why he thinks other physicians should as well. 

MD Mag: What are some of the unintended consequences of patients seeking stem cell therapies for eye conditions?

Kuriyan: So, what we found is that when these patients go to these clinics, they can be injected in both eyes with an experimental treatment that hasn’t really been tested for safety and so we’ve had several patients who actually ended up legally blind in both eyes as a result of that. What I usually tell other doctors to think about is the warning signs to educate their patients about in terms of what to look out for with these stem cell clinics. 

So, the main thing is if you’re asked to pay for it — that’s a big red flag. Right now, all the major stem cell studies are being covered by a grant or by industry and so these patients should not be paying for these actual clinical trials that are out there. If the only thing the place that they’re going to does is stem cell treatments — that’s another red flag. If both eyes are being treated with something that has not shown to be effective or safe, that’s another huge flag. So those are the really, really big things that I tell my patients to look out for as well as encourage other people to educate their patients about.

I think in the past when people ask about these stem cell therapies , we went the extra mile to tell patients it’s not sort of the prime time yet,. But I think that in addition to that it’s important to also educate them about these stem cell clinics because it’s so easy for them to find out about them from the internet.

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