MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Costa Rica has ordered the country's largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatment, saying there is no proof that it is effective, the country's health minister said on Wednesday.
About 400 patients, mostly foreigners from the United States, have been treated at the Institute of Cellular Medicine in San Jose for multiple sclerosis, arthritis, spinal injuries and other illnesses.
"This isn't allowed in any serious country in the world," Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila said in a telephone interview.
The Health Ministry several weeks ago ordered the clinic, owned by Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, to stop performing the treatment, in which stem cells extracted from the patients are reinjected into their bodies.
The ministry said the clinic has a permit to store the stem cells extracted from patients' own fat tissue, bone marrow and donated umbilical cords but is not authorized to perform the treatment.
Sylvia Molina, an assistant at the clinic, said it would shut its doors on Friday.
Neither Riordan nor the clinic's medical director, Fabio Solano, were immediately available for comment.
Riordan's team uses adult stem cells, which can be found throughout the body.
These master cells of the body give rise to many different tissues and blood cells and are standard treatments for leukemia and a few other genetic diseases.
They are different from embryonic stem cells, taken from human embryos. But Riordan's treatment approach is considered experimental by most experts and the International Society of Stem Cell research has warned against so-called stem cell tourism.
Doctors at Riordan's clinic have said that they have seen excellent results from the procedure, but ministry officials said that there is no proof that the treatments work.
The stem cell treatments at the Costa Rica institute cost between $5,000 and $30,000.
China, Thailand and Mexico also offer stem cell treatments, but Costa Rica's stability, modern tourism infrastructure and proximity to the United States had made it a preferred destination for many patients.
Riordan has a U.S. company called Aidan Products that sells, among other things, a nutritional supplement that his team says can stimulate the body's production of blood stem cells.
He also operates a stem cell clinic in Panama and is chairman of Arizona-based Medistem Inc.
Reporting by Leslie Josephs; Editing by Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman