Expert warns over stem cell future

Wed, Apr 18, 2012, 01:00

A world expert on adult stem cell research has warned Ireland must look to the future to protect the population.

Prof Colin McGuckin, director of the newly launched Adult Stem-cell Foundation of Ireland, said debate was needed on the controversial issue for the health of Irish citizens.

The Vatican’s adviser on stem cell issues said like all countries in Europe, Ireland must be ready for new treatments.

“We cannot simply look back and say, ‘I wish we had prepared for that’,” said Prof McGuckin. “In my career, I worked with children who would be alive today if more stem cell banks had been available.”

The foundation is dedicated to providing awareness and information about adult stem cells, research, development and therapies, as well as supporting people in need of or undergoing stem cell therapy.

It will also back the development of an all-Ireland stem cell bank and to support adult stem cell research and development.

Prof McGuckin believes Ireland must fund adult stem cell research and be ready to understand the socio-economic issues surrounding cellular therapy, stem cell banking, facilities provision, law and the relevant medical technology.

Adult stem cells are found in bone marrow, peripheral blood, umbilical cord blood, skeletal muscle, skin and teeth. They have been used to successfully treat leukaemia and related blood cancers for years.

Umbilical cord blood and bone marrow treatments have seen the highest success rate to date and can treat leukaemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease, thalassaemia and immune deficiencies.

More than 70 diseases are treatable with cord blood and over 15 clinical trials are under way for new conditions.

Prof McGuckin said umbilical cord blood, with 130 million births per year, remains the most available stem cell source.

“The health of Irish citizens demands that we debate now what we can do and umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells must be part of that debate,” added the director of the Cell Therapy Research Institute in Lyon, France.

Prof McGuckin’s research group was the first to identify a rare group of cells with similar characteristics to embryonic stem cells and to develop them into non-blood tissues such as liver, brain and pancreas.

His latest clinical trial includes the use of a child’s own cord blood for the treatment of severe neonatal hypoxia, which may lead to cerebral palsy.

He is also developing a treatment for children with congenital bone malformations such as cleft palate, using the child’s own mesenchymal stem cells to make bone implants