It may not be eating them but close enoughAborted babies used in Russian anti-ageing fad
WEALTHY Russians are switching from investing their roubles in luxury yachts and designer jewellery to stem cell therapies in an attempt to maintain the vitality of youth into their old age.
The treatments, in which stem cells extracted from aborted or miscarried foetuses are injected into the body, is the latest anti-ageing weapon, following Botox injections and facelifts, to keep Moscow's youth-obsessed high society looking young.
And those who have admitted visiting the clinics now springing up across the Russian capital claim it works and has wiped years off their age.
Pharmaceutical magnate and former presidential candidate Vladimir Bryntsalov, 58, one of Russia's 27 billionaires, is already a firm believer in the experimental treatment that can cost as much as £2,000 per session.
"I had lots of wrinkles on my face, but now the skin is as smooth as a baby's. I also had terrible scars on my body that were there since childhood, but they too have disappeared."
The foetal stem cell therapy is not only being used to smooth out wrinkles, but is also being injected into other parts of the body to get rid of cellulite and excess flab.
However, the ethical, health and legal issues surrounding the therapy are being ignored -
experts are exploiting a legal loophole in Russian law which permits the extraction and storage of embryo stem cells, but does not specify what can then be done with them.
Professor Vladimir Smirnov, director of Moscow's Institute of Experimental Cardiology and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, recently voiced concern: "We are talking about a huge, corrupt and dangerous trade in dubious therapies," he said. "The authorities have never licensed any medical specialist to administer injections of stem cells. These methods are totally experimental and illegal."
Stem cells are the building blocks of the human body, but are far more plentiful in embryos than in adults. Once extracted, they can be stimulated in a laboratory to develop into any type of body cell or organ including bone, muscle and body tissue.
Research into the cells in western Europe is strictly regulated as scientists try to develop the stem cell therapies for possible use on a range of illnesses including heart disease, Parkinson's and diabetes.
Equipment to extract stem cells from a human embryo is, however, extremely expensive and other critics are incredulous that beauty parlours can even afford it. They believe patients may have been injected with an embryo's tissue extracts, skin cells or even animal stem cells instead. At least one Russian patient has died after having such treatment.
Investigations are currently being carried out into an illegal baby trade that sees impoverished women from Russia and the surrounding countries selling their aborted foetuses to unscrupulous specialists for as little as £100.
The foetuses are then cryogenically frozen and sold to beauty clinics for as much as £5,000. Older foetuses fetch more, as staff at the clinics believe their stem cells have a greater curative power.
Ukrainian investigator Sergei Shorobogatko said the practice was increasing in the former Soviet republic and added that women were also being persuaded to have late abortions, even though the legal limit is 12 weeks.
"Doctors tell the women or girls that there is a problem with their pregnancy and that the baby has to be aborted, or else they are offered more money," said Shorobogatko.
Critics add that unless action is taken to curb stem cell beauty therapy, the problem will only get worse. But these pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.
Russia's oligarchs are continuing to develop the stem cell treatment that will give them eternal youth.
Aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, who with an estimated fortune of more than £3bn is third on the Forbes rich list of wealthy Russians, has already invested more than £65,000 in the Institute of Physical and Chemical Biology at Moscow State University.
Professor Vladimir Skulachev, the institute director and a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: "Ageing is a biological programme where oxygen is the main killer of cells. We believe that any programme can be turned off."