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Friday, December 28, 2012
Stem cell research and therapy has the potential to jump start a more than $100 million medical tourism industry in The Bahamas
Stem Cell Research May Bring $100m Industry
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
CELL research and therapy has the potential to jump start a more than
$100 million medical tourism industry, according to the government’s
task force, which delivered its verdict on the country’s proposed plunge
into the controversial science yesterday.
In a presentation
to Minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez, the group outlawed the use of
embryonic cells to create new stem cells and reproductive cloning, and
gave recommendations on how the country could maximise its potential to
advance global medical research.
the therapy’s profound implications, the committee called for an
overhaul of existing legislation concerning medical tourism, and
widespread education and consultation to ensure that decision makers are
well-versed with the importance of the groundbreaking science and
related ethical issues.
Arthur Porter, who led the special research team, said: “We put
together the framework for stem cell work to be carried out to the
benefit of Bahamians in an ethical way and to support the potential for a
medical tourism industry, and we delved into the specifics of what can
be done and what should not be done.”
we don’t want to do is make it an open season for anybody who wants to
do anything. What we want to do is we want to have that reputable high
class science and therapy can be done here under the right sort of
regulations and the right sort of ethics control because not only are
you controlling it for the jurisdiction and the reputation of the
jurisdiction also frankly the sophisticated person won’t go to a place
that is uncertain so it’s much better that we start off right the first
Gomez announced the task force last month, giving the panel of experts
60 days to study stem cell research from an ethical and medical point of
view before delivering a final report.
force members include: Dr Robin Roberts, Rev Angela Palacious, Dr Paul
Ward, Dr Barrett McCartney, Dr Indira Martin, Dr Wesley Francis, Dr Glen
Beneby, Dr Duane Sands and Mrs Michelle Pindling-Sands.
cells are undifferentiated cells that have the capacity to renew
themselves and to differentiate into various cell types – such as blood,
muscle, and nerve cells. Stem cells are divided into two categories –
embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Porter said: “Probably the most challenging ethical reasons [against
the use of embryonic cells] are around the disruption of a blastocyst to
create new stem cell lines, that was something that we felt as a group
was difficult for us to overcome especially within this jurisdiction,
and within the religious issues that we have here.”
existing stem cell lines that may have been generated elsewhere over
time that under the right conditions and the right ethical supervision
should be allowed but again the creation of new stem cell lines in this
country should not be permitted.”
blastocyst is an embryo that has developed for five to six days after
fertilisation. The committee approved the use of adult stem cells, said
Dr Porter, who also noted that this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or
Medicine was awarded for discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed
to become pluripotent, which characterizes the potential of a cell to
differentiate into different cells.
Porter said: “The second and perhaps more scientifically practical is
that people are moving away from embryonic stem cells and in fact much
of the research now is on adult stem cells or adult stem cells which are
being transformed to be able to act in ways pluripotent stem cells
needs to go back and take stem cells out of an embryo are becoming less
and less. What we looked at for The Bahamas is to be future ready, to
not look to what other countries have done but let’s create an
environment so that we can capture the future.
added: “We believe over the next ten years that we are going to see a
renaissance in the use of this therapy and that we are always going to
have to be looking forward and asking ourselves the question: ‘Is this
new development okay?’ ‘is that new development all right?’”
committee also approved the use of umbilical cord blood, which Dr
Porter said has been used globally for over 15 years, and the use of
somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is a type of technique in which
adult stem cells are encouraged to behave as early stem cells.
Porter said: “We are on the frontiers of new science so the appropriate
clinical trials, the appropriate committees, the appropriate ethics
support, should be given to the use of these areas.”
purveyors of stem cell work, the medical practitioners, research
scientists, foster the skills necessary to perform good clinical trials.
It is important whenever new therapies are introduced that we have the
right practitioners, the right scientists, and the right facilities to
be able to ensure quality use,” he said
According to Dr Porter, the group predicts a renaissance in use of stem cell therapy over the next ten years.
that medical tourism was a “several billion” dollar industry, Dr Porter
said the Bahamas’ market could earn more than a hundred million dollars
per year. He also noted trickle down benefits for physicians, labs and
the wider economy.
Sands said: “This is a rapidly developing, rapidly evolving field,
there are many countries in the world that have embraced medical tourism
and as such have tried desperately to ensure that the process of
approval, of ratification, of consideration of new projects, is done in a
timely fashion. Similarly efforts have been made to ensure that
phenomenal scrutiny of the proposed projects, the participants et
cetera, is carefully done.”
added: “So we need to ensure that the legislation in The Bahamas is
robust enough to protect the integrity and reputation of this country,
while at the same time promoting good science and this is an ongoing
process so we need to make sure that the laws are constantly keeping up
with what is happening on the ground.”
Gomez said he plans to present the stem cell report to Cabinet early
next year. He added that the report will affect possible future
legislation and the development of guidelines for the use of stem cell
therapy in the country.