By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
FREEPORT – The Minister of Health wants a stem cell clinic established at the Princess Margaret Hospital, so that poor Bahamians can have access to such treatments.
“I would like to see a stem cell clinic established in our major teaching hospital, and maybe some of you can help us set that up,” Dr Perry Gomez told medical experts and scientists at the STEMSO conference in Grand Bahama.
“There is no reason why we can’t have a stem cell clinic being established in our hospital today,”
The Minister added that chronic non-communicable diseases are a major health problem in the Bahamas.
“One of the questions that has been asked of me as Minister of Health about stem cell medicine, and the Bahamas’ involvement, is how is this is going to benefit the ordinary patient - the poor man,” Dr Gomez said.
“And that is an issue I thought I should put before you. I am sure that you will have successful therapies established here in Grand Bahama. In Nassau, we had two procedures done by Dr Conville Brown and his team using stem cell therapy in ischemic heart disease, with success in both patients.”
Dr Gomez said he asked one leading stem cell expert whether he was prepared to do any pro bono work here in the Bahamas.
“He answered immediately and said: ‘Yes’. I was rather gratified by that,” he added. “We have a tremendous burden of chronic non-communicable diseases in the Bahamas; it is a big problem and that is the major issue in health today.”
Dr Gomez said the Bahamas has been able to control the HIV disease, with the assistance of former US president Bill Clinton and his Foundation.
“In the Bahamas, we have even been able to reach the definition of the elimination of mother to child transmission in the Bahamas,” he added.
“The question is how we are going to do it for diabetes and other major chronic non-communicable diseases, and in some instances infectious diseases.”
He believes that the answer lies in stem cell therapy.
Dr Gomez said he read an article about a public study on the treatment of multi-drug resistance tuberculosis (MDRTB) in a number of patients in London, using conventional drugs and drugs with stem cells.
He said the success rate was tremendously different in patients that received drugs and stem cell treatment.
“That was encouraging to me because I could recall treating MDRTB in a number of patients, and in particular on a young female, who I watched wither way and die over a period of six months,” Dr Gomez said.
“What I remember most of that patient, it was the only time in my medical practice that I was ever frightened to see a patient. So to see a study that stem cell therapy treatment with drugs for MDRTB is really an example of research that will help poor people, because most people who have TB tend to be poor.”
“I am truly optimistic about this whole prospect of stem cell treatment in the Bahamas, and that it would not only be confined to those who are rich and famous, but that we will have access to these therapies for ordinary people,” the Minister added.
Dr Gomez said two people - one from Grand Bahama and one from Nassau – are alive because of bone marrow transplant, which is a form of stem cell treatment.
“There is no reason why we should not do bone marrow transplant in the Bahamas, and I asked practicing physicians to look into that,” he added.
Dr Gomez said stem cell banking is another possibility for the Bahamas.
He added that an investor has approached the government about opening a stem cell banking facility in the Bahamas.
“He is a Harvard graduate, and the company is called Provo Labs. Now that is another way stem cell medicine can reach ordinary citizens. He said when children change their teeth it is an opportune time to save the tooth and bank it, because dental stem cells are very good, too.,” Dr Gomez said.
“I think it is important that we do things so that ordinary citizens see they have an opportunity to be involved in this whole process, and that this is not just something up there for those who are wealthy and have the best insurances. That is what I would like to see happen.”