Across Ontario, hundreds of people have a stronger appreciation of stem cells, thanks to the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s (OIRM) Stem Cell 101 — The Promise and Potential.
The spring lecture series — featuring world-leading scientists explaining the field, talking about their research and discussing the ethical issues involved — concluded last night in Ottawa where an audience of about 100 listened, asked thoughtful questions and exchanged ideas with the experts.
Co-sponsored by the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital, Tuesday’s event followed similar free-to-the-public sessions in London, Hamilton and Toronto held in partnership with Western University, McMaster University and SickKids Hospital, respectively.
At each event, local scientists addressed such questions as: “What is a stem cell?” “What’s new in stem cell research?” “What kinds of treatments are using stem cells today?” “What is stem cell tourism?”
At last night’s session, Dr. Bill Stanford, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, told the audience how he left an uncertain regulatory environment in the United States, where President George W. Bush had imposed a ban on federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines, to come to work in Canada. President Barack Obama lifted the ban, but Dr. Stanford chose to stay in Ottawa, he told CBC News, because “here in Ottawa people work together instead of working by themselves and that makes things go much faster and better.”
As part of his discussion on ethics, Dr Jeff Blackmer, Vice-President of Medical Professionalism at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), focused on private versus public banking of umbilical cord blood, which provides a rich and non-controversial supply of stem cells for transplant. He noted that private cord blood banks, which charge significant collection fees and annual storage fees, can contain an implied messages in their advertising that parents who don’t use their services are letting their children down. While such a decision is a personal one, he noted that public cord blood banking reflects the spirit of universal health care. Canada’s Cord Blood Bank now operates in four cities.
Asked about when new therapies will make it to the clinic, The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Harry Atkins said that while the field is progressing rapidly, significant technological challenges remain. That makes it difficult to predict whether a new treatment might become available, he said, noting that in some cases “it could be two years, it could be a decade.”
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