$100 mil. projected from stem cell bid
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Dec 28, 2012
Stem cell therapy can potentially inject more than $100 million into the Bahamian economy on an annual basis, Chairman of the stem cell task force Dr. Arthur Porter estimated yesterday after he presented a report on recommendations for stem cell therapy to Health Minister Dr. Perry Gomez.
“Medical tourism is a huge market,” Dr. Porter told The Nassau Guardian after a press conference at the Ministry of Health.
“It’s billions of dollars worldwide. Now that’s for all medical tourism. How much of that is stem cells? We don’t know, but clearly if one devotes oneself to doing that it could be over $100 million per year.
“It’s an established market, but clearly we’re not the only ones thinking of it. So there’ll be other places that are also thinking as aggressively about it as we are.”
Dr. Porter, managing director of the Cancer Centre, said the country must be aggressive in pursuing the industry.
But he said, “We have to do it in a way that protects the country too. At the same time one wants to regulate and at the same time be open to the future because sometimes regulations limit you because it takes long to modify.
“You can’t get caught in your own web trying to modify in order to be flexible in regulations.”
One of the main recommendations was for the drafting of appropriate legislation for stem cell therapy.
Dr. Duane Sands, a member of the task force, said the government has to ensure that the legislation is robust enough to protect the integrity and reputation of the country.
“We need to make sure that the laws are constantly keeping up with what is happening on the ground,” Dr. Sands said.
Dr. Porter said the committee has advised against the use of embryonic stem cell therapy.
“The committee reviewed this area in detail and felt that the disruption of the pre-embryo to create human stem cells in The Bahamas should not be performed in this country,” he said.
He said the decision was made for two reasons.
“The first one was probably the most challenging,” Dr. Porter said. “Ethical reasons are around the disruption of a [pre-embryo] to create new stem cell lines and that is 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.
“The second is that people are moving away from embryonic stem cells. And in fact much of the research is on adult stem cells.”
Stem 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.
While embryonic stem cell research is not recommended, Dr. Porter said the task force believes that existing stem cell lines that may exist elsewhere should be allowed under the right conditions and under the right ethical supervision.
As it relates to adult stem cells, the task force said that kind of therapy should be permitted.
“We felt as a committee to encourage the use of these cells. But we also recognize that there is a lot of work still to be done,” Dr. Porter said.
Similarly, the use of umbilical cord blood should be permitted, he said.
However, he added that reproductive human cloning should not be allowed.
The task force presented its report to the minister 40 days after it was assembled.
Dr. Gomez said he will present the report to the Cabinet early next year.
The report also calls for widespread education on stem cell therapy and the need for the government to review the requirements for a successful medical tourism industry, among other things.