China has ordered a halt to all unapproved stem cell treatments and clinical trials, state media reported on Tuesday, as Beijing seeks to rein in the largely untested stem cell therapies now on offer across the country.

The Ministry of Health has also stopped accepting new applications for stem cell programmes, a ban that will last until July and comes as China begins a one-year programme to regulate the sector better, Xinhua cited a ministry spokesman as saying.

A growing number of hospitals and specialist clinics in large cities in China have been offering stem cell therapies in recent years for treatment of diseases ranging from cancer and Alzheimer's to spinal cord injuries, treatments that are backed by little or no scientific evidence and which are considered at best experimental.

Some of these involve large general hospitals where patients pay thousands -- or even tens of thousands -- of dollars for treatments that are advertised online.

The ministry spokesman said health providers could no longer charge money for experimental stem cell applications.

According to patients, doctors and relatives of patients who spoke to Reuters earlier, patients have come away with little or no improvement and a number have died. Receipts seen by Reuters indicate that one of these hospitals is run by the Chinese army.

Such treatment involving stem cell therapies is not confined to China.

Experts have raised the alarm about patients turning up at clinics and hospitals in Mexico, India, Turkey, Russia and elsewhere for stem cell therapies that have not undergone clinical trials and which are not recognised as standard treatment.

Last week, the United States' Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about unproven stem cell claims.

China's Ministry of Health was not immediately reachable for comment after the Xinhua report.

(Reporting by Sally Huang and Don Durfee; Editing by Ken Wills and Paul Tait)