Stem Cells 2 Go

Stem Cells 2 Go

Japan has turned regenerative medicine into a regulatory free-for-all. Patients across the world could pay the price.

Nature, 2019

Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Applicable
  • Eye Opening


If you were offered an unproven treatment to make you feel younger or stave off illness, would you accept it? Proponents of stem-cell-based therapies are banking you would. This eye-opening article aims to raise awareness of the fact that in Japan and elsewhere, such therapies are becoming increasingly available despite concerns they are largely unproven and in some cases may be harmful. Will biomedical research ultimately prove them beneficial? This piece doesn’t offer a definitive answer, but it does raise important questions about standards of proof in the regulation of medical care.


Clinics that use stem cells to treat a variety of conditions are becoming widespread in Japan, where government regulations encourage them.

Stem cells have shown some promise for having therapeutic benefits when multiplied and infused into the body. Known as “regenerative medicine,” this type of treatment has been used to treat a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), heart disease and circulatory disorders, and to help with recovery from spinal cord injury or stroke.

Although evidence for efficacy varies widely, the Japanese government passed two laws in 2014 that make it easier to apply regenerative therapies. One law lets companies register a therapy under three risk categories. The other provides for conditional approval and insurance coverage with only partial clinical...

About the Authors

David Cyranoski is a senior reporter for Nature in Beijing. Additional reporting by Brendan Maher.

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