Gov’t In Stem Cell Pact
By Macushla Pinder
The Bahama Journal
Nassau, The Bahamas
The government is hoping to partner with the University of Miami (UM) to certify and assist in policing stem cell research activities in The Bahamas.
Prime Minister Perry Christie led a delegation to Miami this week to meet with UM President, Donna Shalala and other senior research experts.
President Shalala served as Secretary of Health and Human Services under former US President Bill Clinton for eight years.
According to Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, who was also on the trip, it was agreed that a working group would be appointed to fully explore how the two sides would work together on the issue.
“Both President Shalala and the prime minister indicated their intention to have that working group nominated in the shortest possible time – certainly within this month – to have the working group named,” Minister Maynard-Gibson said in an interview with the Bahama Journal on Thursday.
“President Shalala said we would operationalise the legislation meaning we would get going on the collaboration and cooperation….President Shalala and others are all extremely excited about the opportunities that exist for collaboration between The Bahamas and the University of Miami not only in the area of stem cell research and therapy but also in terms of medical services,” the minister explained.
Stem cells are “mother cells” that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. One of its main characteristics is its ability to self-renew or multiply while maintaining the potential to develop into other types of cells.
But despite its potential, parliamentarians are divided on the issue, as evident during ongoing debate the Stem Cell Research and Therapy Bill.
The proposed legislation is expected to create a regulatory regime covering all aspects of stem cell research including testing stem cells in people and on clinical research. This includes bench research in laboratories as well as non-human animal research.
It will also prohibit and deter procedures that are unethical or scientifically unfounded, such as human reproductive cloning.
The overall idea is to make The Bahamas a highly respected world leader in stem cell research and therapy.
“We want to be seen to be associated with and recognised by the highest persons in the stem cell arena nationally and internationally,” Minister Maynard-Gibson said.
The government has established a National Stem Cell Ethics Committee, which according to the minister, will be comprised of highly qualified and respected local and international leaders.
“Some of the people we hope to attract are people who are at leading universities like Duke and Harvard universities. We also have a Scientific Review Committee, so that everyone who intends to conduct stem cell research and therapy must be subjected to procedures,” the minister explained.
But according to Opposition Leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis, the government’s decision to team up with the UM seems to be “some form of recognition by association” on the thorny issue.
“This is something we’ve been talking about,” Dr. Minnis said.
“The government now recognizes the deficiencies moving forward in terms of enforcement, regulation and monitoring what they want to do. They’re a lot of issues facing the country today so why rush with this particular issue. Is there some special interest group that they are trying to satisfy and they must do it? Why the rush?
“Miami’s stem cell programme is clinical research which is FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved. Clinical research means that patients do not pay for the research being done. One has to ask the question, will we embark on clinical research and if that’s the case, will patients be charged. If not, what is Miami’s involvement? This has to be answered.”
It is questions like these why the Free National Movement (FNM) leader is pushing for the Stem Cell Research and Therapy Bill to be sent to a committee.
The idea, he said, is for the issue to be further discussed so that “all the enforcement and proper regulatory process would be in place.”
“We don’t want our country to be blacklisted four or five years down the road,” Dr. Minnis said.
But Minister Maynard-Gibson said the mere fact that professionals from places like the UM are willing to come to the table and understand the mutual benefits speaks volumes.
In response to the suggestion that the bill be sent to a committee, Mrs. Maynard-Gibson leaned on comments made by noted cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon and FNM Deputy Chairman, Dr. Duane Sands, who has thrown his support behind the controversial procedure.
According to Dr. Sands, ethical stem cell research and therapy “holds tremendous potential for The Bahamas.”
Debate on the Stem Cell Therapy and Research Bill is expected to continue when the House resumes on August 7.
2 August, 2013