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Lifesaving stem cell treatments must be offered in Ireland, says expert

Ireland is seriously lagging behind most other countries in offering live-saving treatments provided by the use of adult stem cells, a leading international medical expert has warned.

Colin McGuckin called on the Government and health authorities to facilitate the wider collection and storage of stem cells from umbilical cord blood in Ireland.

Prof McGuckin — who is advisor to the Vatican on stem cells and a director of the Cell Therapy Research Institute in Lyon, France — is director of the Adult Stem Cell Foundation of Ireland, which was formally launched yesterday.

"Treatments which are available in other countries must come to Ireland," said Mr McGuckin. He also expressed fears the lack of stem cell therapies here could force people to seek unregulated care abroad.

Presently, none of Ireland’s three main maternity hospitals allow for the collection of adult stem cells from umbilical cords except in high-risk cases.

The only facility which allows the practice is Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin. All adult stem cells collected are sent abroad for storage.

Mr McGuckin said adult stem cells could be used in the treatment of over 70 diseases including leukaemia and heart disease. Advances are also being made in their use for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Last night, another body, the Irish Stem Cell Foundation, criticised his claims about the number of diseases which could be treated by therapies involving adult stem cells.

It also argued there was no real evidence yet to support the routine storing of stem cells from umbilical cord blood.

Mr McGuckin said the use of adult stem cell therapies was growing as an alternative or complement to drugs and surgery. Research was also under way to allow their use for the treatment of cerebral palsy and on children with congenital bone malformations such as cleft palates.

"Like all countries in Europe, Ireland must look to the future to protect the population and be ready for new treatments... "In my career, I worked with children who would be alive today if more stem cell banks had been available."

The Department of Health said staff at hospitals operated or funded by the HSE cannot collect umbilical cord blood for third-party commercial entities as they are not covered by the clinical indemnity scheme.