The largest stem cell treatment clinic in Costa Rica has shut its doors, citing a letter from the Health Ministry prohibiting treatment using embryonic cells.
The Institute of Cellular Medicine said it would move all operations to Panama to continue to “promote the therapeutic science of embryonic cells.”
In a press statement circulated on Thursday afternoon, the Institute wrote that it was sorry for the people who lost their jobs, but that it had enjoyed working with a “high quality group of professionals.”
“This is very damaging to the future of medicine in Costa Rica,” said Samuel Flickier, a former member of the Institute’s Advisory Board who has since lost contact with the organization. “The future of medicine is in embryonic cells and nanotechnology … which Costa Rica will be closed off from.”
Health Minister María Avila said she didn’t order the clinic closed, but simply enforced Costa Rican law, which prohibits the use of embryonic cells in treatment.
“We did not close the institute. They made that decision themselves,” she said. “But what we are prohibiting is the use of embryonic stem cells because no place in the world recognizes the embryonic stem cells as a form of treatment.”
The clinic opened in 2006 with a $6 million investment under the direction of entrepreneur Neil Riordan from the U.S. state of Arizona. According to news reports, the clinic has treated over 500 patients for diseases ranging from autism to cerebral palsy to multiple sclerosis.
“The people who normally receive treatment are people who don’t have any other alternative,” said Flickier. “They are looking for other options.”
The therapy, in which old diseased cells are replaced with newer, healthier ones, requires 5-10 days and involves an average of four injections. The most well-known stem cell treatment is a bone marrow transplant used in response to Leukemia.
Avila said the clinic could have continued operations using adult stem cells, but “the only thing they can’t do is use embryonic stem cells as a form of treatment because the health ministry prohibits it.”