Stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine will combat long-term disability to improve the lives of individual patients and reduce care costs overall.
This is the view of the new chairman of the Scottish Cell Stem Network (SSCN) Sir Graeme Catto (pictured), who also wants to find new ways of “rapid response” funding to tackle situations where essential equipment or staff retention are required to ensure research projects proceed without delay.
Sir Graeme, who is also President of the General Medical Council, said improved patient care is the aim of turning stem cell research into a clinical reality.
“Regenerative medicine is one way in which many of the long-term conditions causing progressive disability might be effectively treated,” said Sir Graeme, who takes over the post from Ian Sword.
“Viewed in that way, the application of stem cell therapy should benefit both the individual patients and, by reducing the costs of care, society at large.”
“Some blood diseases are already being treated in this way using bone marrow transplantation. As specific treatments take time to develop, stem cells can also be used as targets for drug discovery and to improve diagnostic tests.”
He said that the SSCN is playing a crucial role working with the entire stem cell community to improve the rate at which laboratory research can be translated into therapeutic benefits for patients affected by such devastating conditions as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and sight loss.
The SSCN helps the stem cell community in Scotland apply successfully to existing funding streams but Sir Graeme also believes that there is now a need for a specifically Scottish "rapid response" funding source to meet situations requiring a faster solution than the conventional funding sources can provide.
“These funds might come from a variety of public and private sources and should be ‘renewable’ when the recipients are able to refund,” he said.
“This might be at a time when retaining staff or buying an essential piece of equipment at short notice is a priority issue and funding might take the form of a loan or bridging grant when appropriate.”
“It is certainly something I will be looking into.”
Sir Graeme, Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Aberdeen who was knighted in 2002 for services to medicine and medical education, said that Scotland is at the forefront of ground-breaking advances in stem cell technology.
“Given the worldwide interest in stem cells we need to have our own niche – and that should be in the translational or regenerative medicine area.”
“The potential therapeutic benefits of stem cell therapy, while considerable, may not be realized for some years.”
“The complex ethical and technical issues surrounding this new science as well as possible new treatments for long-term conditions attract widespread interest. The SSCN has to continue engaging with the public as clearly and as fully as possible,” he said.
Dr. Marilyn Robertson, executive director of the SSCN, welcomed his appointment.
“He is a distinguished physician with great experience and knowledge and we see him as the ideal person to be chairman as we go forward with our work in this extremely important area,” said Dr. Robertson.
Illustration: University of Aberdeen.
All Media Scotland Media Release (06/11/08)
Scottish Stem Cell Network