Examining the dynamics that drive and sustain stem cell tourism

20 April 2017
New text offers multi-dimensional perspective on this complex and rapidly changing phenomenon

A new book addressing the complex forces that shape and perpetuate a market for commercial stem cell treatments was launched at the Kathleen Syme Library in Carlton on 18 April.

Entitled, Stem Cell Tourism and the Political Economy of Hope, and published by Palgrave MacMillan the book is a culmination of seven years of work undertaken by a team of interdisciplinary researchers from the University of Melbourne and Monash University: Professor Alan Petersen, Dr Casimir McGregor and Dr Jane Brophy from the School of Social Sciences at Monash and Associate Professor Megan Munsie and Dr Claire Tanner from the Centre for Stem Cell Systems at the University of Melbourne. Megan is also a member of the Stem Cells Australia initiative.

The book provides a unique and innovative perspective on the controversial phenomenon of ‘stem cell tourism’. A growing number of patients are embarking on stem cell treatments that are clinically unproven and yet available in clinics and hospitals around the world. The authors offer a cutting edge multi-dimensional perspective on this complex and rapidly changing phenomenon, including an analysis of the experiences of those who have undertaken or have contemplated undertaking a stem cell treatment, as well as examination of the views of those who undertake research or advise on or provide stem cell treatments. Developing the concept of ‘the political economy of hope’, and referencing case studies of the stem cell treatment market in China, Germany, and Australia, the book argues for a reframing of ‘stem cell tourism’ to understand why patients and families pursue these treatments and whether authorities’ concerns are justified and whether their responses are appropriate and proportionate to the alleged risks.

Professor Jane Kaye (Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne; Director of the Centre for Law, Health and Emerging Technologies at Oxford (HeLEX)) launched the book to the great delight of the book’s authors. She said, "This thought provoking and well-written book provides insights into the complexity of the stem cell tourism phenomenon. It's analysis is based on interviews with people travelling to receive stem cell interventions and those providing these unproven and untested clinic services. This book will be of interest to the academic community but also to a wider audience concerned with how we regulate these activities to protect members of the public and to safeguard the integrity of the medical profession." 

The book has been endorsed by leading international scholars in this area:

In Stem Cell Tourism and the Political Economy of Hope, the authors map the itineraries and aspirations of ‘stem cell tourists’, drawing a sophisticated and complex picture of the sociocultural dynamics at work and the central role of hope in mobilizing both patients and providers. Accessibly written and vividly illustrated with rich empirical examples, the book reframes our understanding of medical tourism and problematizes academic and policy responses to this growing phenomenon.    – Professor Ruth Holliday, University of Leeds

This terrific book is more than just an overview of the facts, it provides a unique and tremendously informed perspective on the drivers of stem cell tourism and how the policy debates can be reframed in a constructive manner.        – Professor Timothy Caulfield, University of Alberta

This is a welcome and timely contribution to scholarship on the globalisation of biomedicine. In stem cell tourism, we have the interweaving of several profoundly significant dimensions of contemporary life…This book makes a remarkable contribution to our understanding of these forces, helping us to understand dynamics that are actively reshaping the global biomedical landscape.     – Professor Nik Brown, University of York

The authors were thrilled to celebrate the book's publication at a wonderful (and well-catered!) event with family and friends, and the many people who contributed to and supported the authors and this important work. In particular heartfelt thanks were extended to the over 100 people who shared their views, perspectives and stories so generously with the researchers. Many of the conversations captured in the course of the research involved patients, or their loved ones, reflecting on journeys that often involved great hope, deep sadness, loss and suffering as they sought a solution to improve their quality of life.

Copies of the printed book or eBook can be purchased at a discounted rate from Palgrave MacMillan for a limited time. Use the following token in PM17TWENTY (Valid until 18 May 2017).

This work by the Australian Research Council through a 2012 Discovery Grant - High Hopes, High Risk?: A Sociological Study of Stem Cell Tourism (DP120100921) - and seeding funding in 2009 from the then Australian government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, under the National Enabling Technologies Strategy.