Stem cells beyond Milestones – Miles to Go

The story of stem cells is the story of life itself…A fascinating account of countless, miniscule custodians of new life in the human body,

inherently capable of regeneration and repair …In the eternal fight against disease and disorder.

How and when did we first discover these micro champions?

There can be different answers to this primordial question depending on how we look at it…And there’s nothing right or wrong about any of them.

We could trace their history in Greek and Indian mythology in the miraculous regenerative abilities of umpteen deities and demons…

We could attach their discovery to the scientific literature of German biologist Ernst Haeckel…

We could say the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings proved the first spark when scientists were studying the fatal radiation effect on blood cells…

The finding could also be attributed to Russian academic Alexander Maximow whose pioneering theory established the multi-potency of blood cells…

Or we could also link the ‘first steps’ to a host of fascinating breakthroughs – either the first frog cloning experiments of the 1950s, the first bone marrow transplant for treating leukemia in 1969, the advent of in vitro fertilization in 1978 or the first umbilical cord blood transplant in 1988…

At EPC, we see the stem cell timeline not so much in terms of milestones tagged with ‘first ever’ claims. We regard it as an eternal voyage of earnest breakthroughs that has stretched the possibilities of medical advancement to unexpected territories in fascinating ways.

A crusade driven by pure altruism to serve the larger cause of regenerative medicine that, in the process, aims to:

…secure hope from the clutches of hype,

…eliminate the friction linked to the science, and,

…explode the fiction thrust on it.

A study of history becomes most fruitful if it helps in introspection. We definitely cherish every single milestone in the glorious history of regenerative medicine, but our mind is transfixed on every single possibility of a collaboration or co-creation to help establish stem cell transplantation as an effective mainstream clinical application for the treatment of disease and disorder and improvement of life quality and longevity.

Miles to Go…

Medical Tourism – Story of Evolving Paradigms

Medical Tourism is an emerging and evolving subset of the health care industry which can be defined as “Receiving medical treatment in a destination different from the native country which provides high quality and cost effective care and cure”

Contrary to popular perception, the ‘care and cure’ extends way beyond cosmetic procedures to include intricate surgeries and stem cell transplants as well. In fact, with this sunrise sector expanding its roots and branches across the globe, medical tourism will increasingly cater to high end medical treatments and services, both in complexity and advancement. It goes without saying that some of the medical tourism hubs will grow faster than the rest on the wings of proven expertise, better resources, quality service and cost effective rates. The global medical tourism market is currently believed to be growing at a CAGR of 9% but the continued momentum is likely to up the growth by leaps and bounds.

India’s hope lies in its inherent scope – whether in terms of geography, skilled resources, amicable culture or cost effective rates. At the same time, India needs to rise to the occasion vis-à-vis Latin American and Southeast Asian countries, especially in respect of critical areas including:

• Mitigating risk of malpractices and undue litigation
• Streamlined allied services including travel, accommodation and insurance
• Well defined and hassle-free regulatory environment
• Minimal involvement of Third party players

If India does address the challenges on major fronts, the hope will indeed be fueled by the scope in the coming years. Today, the popular treatment options for medical tourists coming to India include Alternative Medicine, Bone marrow Transplant, Cardiac Bypass, Eye Surgery and Hip Replacement. But I have no doubt whatsoever that in the coming years, we can make this list as exhaustive as possible to include Cosmetic Surgery, Dental Care, Gender Realignment, Heart Surgery, Obesity Surgery, Oncology and Orthopedics, Organ Transplants, Cardiovascular Surgery, Stem Cell Transplants and allied high end procedures.

Of course, this transformation will call for substantial investments by the value chain of industry players. Among the critical steps would be:

• Accreditation from organizations to facilitate hospital or clinic selection
• Collaboration with global players to create worldwide brand identity
• Packaging follow-up care and coverage for medical tourists
• Initiating potent forums and platforms for doctor-patient interaction
• Value chain of clinics, organizations, institutes and experts to serve the larger cause

Let’s Stem the tide

Stem cells in India: Let’s stem the tide of chaos and confusion

Stem cell research, the world over, is perpetually caught in the intricate web of an apparent conflict. The promise of improved quality of human life has to constantly grapple with the intertwined question of safety, morality and ethics. It’s a chain of cascading effect actually. Empty sloganeering in the name of morality and ethics puts a freeze on healthy debate needed to study the pros and cons which in turn prevents the much needed legislation stipulating the codes of conduct and the dos and don’ts. The result is a chaos that, worse than slowing down the pace of advancement in this critical field, unknowingly helps unscrupulous providers work around the legal loopholes to promote their personal interests.

As a practicing geneticist, I firmly believe that the apparent conflict can be mitigated, if not weeded out, provided we take conscious steps to reduce the assumed polarity between scientific & medical fraternity and the community at large including patients and volunteers. Among other things, there’s a prime need for fueling healthy community debates on the ethical issues of stem cell research and application. At the same time, we need potent collaborations between institutes who possess proven clinical expertise in stem cell transplantations and healthcare providers who seek to appropriate these progressive methods. Needless to say, any collaboration in this critical scientific research will only enhance its methodical and financial foundation. It will also help acquire new data that could guarantee a greater level of confidence regarding the results achieved earlier. Needless to say, the insights from this endeavor will help furnish more reliable research information for patients and their kith and kin contemplating stem cell transplants that are otherwise forced to rely solely on distant testimonials and instant recommendations.

On the research and application side, it may pave the way for robust legal frameworks that will weed out the grey areas that mere “adherence to guidelines” tend to harbor. Most important, it may bring in much needed clarity for the demand side entities to be able to make a rational choice from among the various stem cell line purely based on its proven effectiveness in the context of the specific disease. This should jettison the needless rivalry between the proponents of different stem cell lines that needlessly mars the larger cause when stem cell clinics are reduced to stem cell shops.

Such a greenhouse of collaboration and co-creation may sound utopian at this stage but like anything else in life, the first few steps could gradually place us on a trajectory of progression. In the time to come, it could well pave the way for the worldwide recognition of stem cell transplantation as an effective clinical application for the treatment of a wide range of diseases and conditions, prophylaxis of certain diseases and improvement in quality and longevity of human life.