Managing Expectations: Understanding the Side Effects of Stem Cell Therapy

Louis A. Cona, MD
Updated on
May 12, 2023

Is stem cell therapy safe? Discover the safe and effective potential of adult stem cell therapy. Backed by scientific research and clinical trials. Learn more about the potential side effects and risks.

Managing Expectations: Understanding the Side Effects of Stem Cell Therapy

10,000+ subscribers

Join our newsletter to learn more about stem cell therapy and the science behind it.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.


Stem cells have been a topic of intense research for several decades, with the potential to revolutionize medicine. The ability of stem cells to differentiate into various cell types and to self-renew has opened the door to new treatment options for a wide range of medical conditions and diseases. Among the different types of stem cells, adult stem cells, including mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), have gained significant attention due to their multipotent nature and ability to differentiate into various cell types. MSCs have been extensively studied and used in clinical trials for different medical conditions.

The safety and efficacy of MSCs have been demonstrated in numerous pre-clinical and clinical studies, with minimal side effects reported. Nevertheless, the use of MSCs is still considered exploratory and more research is needed to understand their long-term effects fully. This research is essential to establish the appropriate dosage, duration, and frequency of treatments, the optimal cell source, and the best delivery method. Additionally, it is necessary to establish regulations, guidelines, and oversight to ensure the safety and efficacy of MSCs treatments.

This introduction will discuss the current state of MSC research, including its potential therapeutic applications, safety, and efficacy. We will also discuss the ongoing challenges and future directions for MSC research, as well as the importance

Stem cell therapy side effects

Stem cell therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many individuals considering this treatment option for various conditions. Common short-term side effects of stem cell therapy include fatigue, headache, chills, nausea, and low-grade fever. However, side effects vary; not every patient will experience side effects. These side effects are generally mild and temporary. Additionally, the incidence of side effects may vary depending on the type of stem cells used, the dose, and the method of administration.

It's worth mentioning that despite the possible side effects, stem cell therapy is a safe and effective treatment option for a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to spinal cord injuries, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, degenerative neurological disorders, and diabetes. With careful consideration of potential side effects and close monitoring by a healthcare professional, individuals can decide whether stem cell therapy is the right treatment option for them. Short-term side effects of stem cell therapy generally include:

Intravenous Administration:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Pain or discomfort at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever

Site Injection:

  • Pain or discomfort at the injection site
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Redness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Infection

Intrathecal Administration:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or discomfort at the injection site
  • Neurological symptoms (such as weakness or numbness)
  • Fever

Intranasal Administration:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Dizziness


Is stem cell therapy safe?

Yes, stem cell therapy using human stem cells is a safe procedure.  Stem cell clinics must follow proper cell administration techniques.  Patients must also be screened for treatment candidacy as all people may not be candidates for stem cells.  Multiple peer-reviewed studies have found Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy a safe procedure.  Additionally, over the course of DVC Stem's IRB-approved clinical study, there have been no reports of any long-term adverse side effects from treatment.

Adult stem cells are a safe treatment option

Adult stem cells, including mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), are used in clinical settings because they have several characteristics that make them safe and suitable for medical treatments.

  1. Multipotent: Adult stem cells, including MSCs, can differentiate into multiple cell types, making them versatile in treating various medical conditions and diseases.
  2. Low risk of immune rejection: Adult stem cells, including MSCs, are less likely to be rejected by the body's immune system than embryonic stem cells, which can lead to inflammation and tissue damage.
  3. Easy to harvest: Adult stem cells, including MSCs, can be easily gathered from various sources such as fat tissue, bone marrow, and umbilical cord blood, which makes them more accessible for medical treatments.
  4. Extensively researched: Adult stem cells, including MSCs, have been extensively researched and used in clinical trials for various medical conditions and diseases. This research has provided a lot of information about their safety and efficacy.

Can the body reject stem cells?

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have a degree of immuno-suppresive activity and thus are not usually subject to the same immune response as other foreign cells. Mesenchymal stem cells derived from umbilical cord tissue are universally accepted and have no chance of rejection. Cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are effectively “brand new” and Immuno-privileged, unclaimed by the body.

Additionally, unlike other forms of treatment, such as an organ transplant, no blood products are used, and no HLA matching is required. When administered, umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) face no chance of rejection.


Safety Concerns for Stem Cell Treatments at unregulated clinics

There are several safety concerns for stem cell treatments at unregulated clinics. Some of these include:

  1. Lack of oversight: Unregulated clinics may not have the same level of oversight and quality control as regulated clinics, which can lead to unsafe practices and treatments.
  2. Unproven treatments: Stem cell treatments that have not undergone rigorous scientific testing and clinical trials may not be safe or effective. Unregulated clinics may offer treatments that have not been proven to work or have not been reviewed by the FDA.
  3. Unsafe harvesting procedures: Some unregulated clinics may use dangerous techniques for harvesting stem cells, such as using unsterile equipment or performing the procedure on patients who are not suitable candidates.
  4. Misleading or false information: Unregulated clinics may provide false or misleading information about the safety and effectiveness of their treatments, which can lead to false hope and expectations for patients.
  5. Contamination: Unregulated clinics may not have the same level of sanitation, disinfection, and sterilization protocols, which can increase the risk of infection and contamination of the stem cells.
  6. Unskilled staff: Unregulated clinics may not have adequately trained staff who can safely and effectively administer stem cell treatments.
  7. Lack of follow-up care: Some unregulated clinics may not provide follow-up care or monitoring to ensure patients recover safely from the treatments.

Physician with patients speaking about stem cell therapy
It's important to note that these concerns are not limited to unregulated clinics but also can occur in regulated ones. That's why it's essential to do your research, ask for references, double-check the credentials of the staff, and ask for the treatments' clinical trials and FDA status (in the United States) before making a decision.

Advice for People Considering Stem Cell Therapies

Stem cell treatments can potentially treat various medical conditions and diseases. However, it is essential to note that the safety and effectiveness of almost all of these products have not yet been fully established.

If you are considering stem cell treatment in the United States, it is crucial to understand the role of the FDA in overseeing these treatments. This is not true despite some claims that the FDA does not need to review or approve treatments involving one's stem cells.

To ensure your safety and well-being, it is essential to:

  • Ask if the FDA has reviewed the treatment and confirm this information with your healthcare provider
  • Ask the clinical investigator for the FDA-issued Investigational New Drug Application number and review the FDA communication acknowledging the IND before getting treatment
  • Understand the entire process and known risks before signing any consent forms - before signing any consent forms, it is essential to understand the whole process and any known risks involved in stem cell treatment. The consent form will also identify the Institutional Review Board (IRB) responsible for protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects. You may also ask the study sponsor for the clinical investigator's brochure to gain more information about the product and its safety and effectiveness.
  • Ask the study sponsor for the clinical investigator's brochure, which includes a short product description and information about its safety and effectiveness.

International stem cell treatments

If you are considering treatment in another country, knowing that the FDA does not oversee treatments outside the United States is essential. Regulations and oversight of stem cell products may vary in other countries, so it is crucial to research and understand the rules in the country where you are considering treatment. Additionally, knowing if the exploratory treatment is reasonably safe in a country that does not require regulatory review of clinical studies may be challenging.


Stem cell regulation in the Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands, like many other countries, has regulations in place to ensure the safety and efficacy of stem cell therapies offered to patients. One of the requirements for any physician offering stem cell therapy in the Cayman Islands is that they must have an active clinical trial and an IRB (Institutional Review Board) approved protocol in place.

An active clinical trial means that the physician must conduct ongoing research on the safety and effectiveness of the stem cell therapy they offer. The IRB-approved protocol is a set of guidelines and procedures that have been reviewed and approved by the IRB, an independent committee responsible for overseeing the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects in research studies.

By requiring an active clinical trial and an IRB-approved protocol, the Cayman Islands government aims to ensure that stem cell therapies offered in the country have undergone proper scientific evaluation and have been deemed safe and effective for use on patients. This helps protect patients from unproven or potentially dangerous treatments and ensures that the treatments offered have some scientific evidence of safety and efficacy.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells have not yet specialized in the body, meaning they have not grown into a particular type of cell with a specific function (e.g., muscle cell, skin cell, etc.). A stem cell can become many different cell types in the human body.

The process of stem cells transforming into new types of cells is called differentiation. This process is the most critical aspect of stem cell therapies, as the cells become new cells required for the body to heal.

Stem cells also have self-replicating capabilities. The cells can multiply into identical copies of themselves within the body after transfusion.  For example, stem cells used to treat a neurological injury could become nerve cells and replicate to create exponentially more nerve cells. This process can drastically increase the effectiveness of stem cell treatments over time.

“Stem cell research has shown that cell therapy can promote the repair of diseased, dysfunctional, or injured tissue. There have been many positive and exciting outcomes for patients who have had little success with conventional treatments.”

As well as being essential to healthy human growth, stem cells are a potential source of new cells to replace damaged or diseased tissue. Stem cells' abilities make them promising in treating various diseases and conditions.


Where do stem cells originate?

Adult stem cells can be harvested from fat (adipose), bone marrow, umbilical cord tissue, & umbilical cord blood. Each source has certain benefits, and the type of stem cell source used can vary from patient to patient based on physician recommendations.

Embryonic stem cell
Artists depiction of an embryonic stem cell

What are the side effects of Embryonic stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) or pluripotent stem cells are derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a very early stage of human development. While ESCs have the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the body, their use in medical treatments is still considered experimental, and there are several potential side effects to consider.

  1. Tumor formation: ESCs can potentially form tumors after transplantation, which can be a severe side effect.
  2. Immune rejection: ESCs may be rejected by the body's immune system, leading to inflammation and tissue damage.
  3. Teratoma formation: ESCs can potentially form teratomas, benign tumors containing various tissue types, such as hair, teeth, and bone.
  4. Development of malignant cells: ESCs can potentially develop into cancer cells.
  5. Ethical concerns: ESCs are derived from human embryos, which raises ethical concerns about using human embryos in medical research.
  6. Unknown long-term effects: ESC therapy is a relatively new treatment, and the long-term effects are not yet fully understood.

It's important to note that the use of embryonic stem cells is highly controversial, not only because of the potential side effects but also because of the ethical considerations raised by the use of embryonic cells.

It's necessary to consider the potential benefits and risks of using embryonic stem cells in medical treatments and to be aware of the ongoing research and developments in this field. Additionally, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, ethicists, and regulators is essential before deciding.


In conclusion, mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy is a promising treatment option that can potentially treat various medical conditions and diseases. However, as with any medical treatment, it is essential to consider the potential risks and benefits before undergoing MSC therapy. While MSC therapy has been generally safe and well-tolerated, there are possible long-term side effects that need to be considered, such as the risk of tumor formation, immune reactions, and therapy failure. Additionally, as MSC therapy is a relatively new treatment, the long-term effects are not yet fully understood.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider and seek treatment from reputable clinics that have undergone the necessary oversight and clinical trials. Additionally, it's vital to be aware of the regulations and management of stem cell products in the country where you are considering treatment. It is also essential to be cautious when considering stem cell-based products in a country that may not require a regulatory review of clinical studies. It may be hard to know if the experimental treatment is reasonably safe.

In summary, while MSC therapy can provide significant benefits, it is important to approach it cautiously and be well-informed about the potential risks and benefits before making a decision. It is also important to seek treatments from reputable clinics that have undergone the necessary oversight and clinical trials.


(1) Biehl, Jesse K, and Brenda Russell. “Introduction to Stem Cell Therapy.” The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009,

(2) Zakrzewski, Wojciech, et al. “Stem Cells: Past, Present, and Future.” Stem Cell Research & Therapy, BioMed Central, 26 Feb. 2019,

(3) Watt, Fiona M, and Ryan R Driskell. “The Therapeutic Potential of Stem Cells.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, The Royal Society, 12 Jan. 2010,

(4) Mao, Fei, et al. “Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Their Therapeutic Applications in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Oncotarget, Impact Journals LLC, 6 June 2017,

(5) Walker, J. T., Keating, A., & Davies, J. E. (2020, May 28). Stem Cells: Umbilical Cord/Wharton’s Jelly Derived. Cell Engineering and Regeneration.

Latest articles

All posts
IRB-approved protocol

Ready to get started?

Complete our brief screening application to find out if you are a candidate for treatment.

Are you a candidate for stem cell therapy?

Find out if stem cell therapy can improve your health by completing our short questionnaire.