Google Bans Advertising on Unproven Medical Treatments (like Stem Cells)

Closing out the first week of September, Google said it will no longer allow the posting of ads for “unproven or experimental medical techniques.”  This includes, mostly, advertising that discusses or describes stem cell therapy, cellular therapy, and gene therapy.  The Mountain View, CA-based technology giant said that this complex decision comes as a means to quell a “rise in bad actors” who try to take advantage of vulnerable people by offering “untested, deceptive treatments.”

In a recent blog post, Google said, “These treatments can lead to dangerous health outcomes and we feel they have no place on our platforms,” specifically ads for medical treatments with “no established biomedical or scientific basis.”

If this seems arbitrary to you then you may not have seen any of the onslaught of new ads from stem cell clinics across the United States looking to sell unapproved therapies which, they claim, can treat a wide range of ailments. This might include everything from arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease, from macular degeneration to multiple sclerosis.  

And if you have not seen any of this type of advertising, you might want to be prepared to start.  Stem cell clinics have been growing quickly as an emerging direct-to-consumer industry. And their growth may be largely due to the excitement generated by advertising the vast number of conditions that stem cells can supposedly treat.  As a matter of fact, scientists and medical associations alike have commented that these unsupported claims make stem cell therapy like a modern snake oil that specifically aims to prey on seriously ill—and terribly vulnerable—patients.  

While stem cell research has certainly had its breakthroughs, claiming that it can treat such a broad canvas of ailments is dangerous. Unfortunately, some stem cell treatments have already resulted in serious injury in some patients. Specifically, at least five women have reported going blind after a stem cell clinic injected their product directly into their eyes.  

At the same time, some stem-cell industry representatives are criticizing Google’s new ad policy. The argument is that this ban unfairly discriminates against “good” companies because there is no determination as to which companies actually provide a safe, FDA-verified procedure.  Of course, Google should not have be a regulator in this industry, so the ban is more of an attempt to avoid any involvement with the potential risks. 

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