Online marketing practices of regenerative medicine clinics in US-Mexico border region: a web surveillance study

Chavez J, Shah NA, Ruoss S, Cuomo RE, Ward SR, Mackey TK.
Stem Cell Res Ther, 2021 12(1):189.

Abstract:

INTRODUCTION: The potential of regenerative medicine to improve human health has led to the rapid expansion of stem cell clinics throughout the world with varying levels of regulation and oversight. This has led to a market ripe for stem cell tourism, with Tijuana, Mexico, as a major destination. In this study, we characterize the online marketing, intervention details, pricing of services, and assess potential safety risks through web surveillance of regenerative medicine clinics marketing services in Tijuana.
METHODS: We conducted structured online search queries from March to April 2019 using 296 search terms in English and Spanish on two search engines (Google and Bing) to identify websites engaged in direct-to-consumer advertising of regenerative medicine services. We performed content analysis to characterize three categories of interest: online presence, tokens of scientific legitimacy, and intervention details.
RESULTS: Our structured online searches resulted in 110 unique websites located in Tijuana corresponding to 76 confirmed locations. These clinics' online presence consisted of direct-to-consumer advertising mainly through a dedicated website (94.5%) or Facebook page (65.5%). The vast majority of these websites (99.1%) did not mention any affiliation to an academic institutions or other overt tokens of scientific legitimacy. Most clinics claimed autologous tissue was the source of treatments (67.3%) and generally did not specify route of administration. Additionally, of the Tijuana clinics identified, 13 claimed licensing, though only 1 matched with available licensing information.
CONCLUSIONS: Regenerative medicine clinics in Tijuana have a significant online presence using direct-to-consumer advertising to attract stem-cell tourism clientele in a bustling border region between Mexico and the USA. This study adds to existing literature evidencing the unregulated nature of online stem cell offerings and provides further evidence of the need for regulatory harmonization, particularly to address stem cell services being offered online across borders.