Dr Luis-Francisco Acevedo-Hueso: Scotland could lead world in stem cell technology

Regenerative medicines could revolutionise treatments. Picture: Getty Images
Regenerative medicines could revolutionise treatments. Picture: Getty Images
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At present, the biomedical industry (pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and bioengineering) is failing Scotland.

Technologies are slow, bulky and expensive because their availablity is controlled by large corporations such as Carl Zeiss, Leica and Olympus, which lease and sell them at very high prices to our NHS, academic researchers, the pharma and biomedical companies, making therapies and treatments very expensive and inaccessible to patients.

One example is Caroline Wyatt, the former BBC defence correspondent, who was deemed unsuitable for an NHS trial and had to pay £48,000 for a stem cell transplant in Mexico in January to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Ms Wyatt saw improvements within a week and results show that about 80 per cent of ­people who have had the treatment responded to some degree. More than half saw the progression of their MS halted. So why was she deemed unsuitable for NHS treatment? This is mainly due to budget; clinicians have to be very selective with patients who qualify. So if you don’t qualify and you cannot afford to travel elsewhere and pay, are you just to suffer?

Regenerative medicines are important in the biomedical industry. The transplantation of stem cells seeks to repair or replace damaged or diseased cells or tissues to restore normal function and will revolutionise patient care in the 21st century.

Regenerative medicines can be developed to target chronic diseases such as diabetes, which have an increasing economic impact on the NHS. In the UK, the NHS spends around 10 per cent of its annual budget on treating diabetes and associated complications.

Adults with diabetes have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart ­diseases and strokes. Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure and accounts for more than 60 per cent of non-traumatic lower limb amputations. Regenerative medicines can optimise the diagnosis process, develop new low cost treatment options and save the NHS millions.

The biomedical industry urgently needs to be reimagined. We must look to make Scotland a champion of stem cell manufacturing technologies and regenerative medicine. I am a researcher for BioTSptech and we are developing a new sensor system, using advanced optoelectronic measurement technologies and complex data analysis to actively monitor and analyse biological live cell signatures non-invasively and non-destructively. Our technology will enable our NHS, academic researchers, the pharma and biomedical companies with the knowledge to lead the way in stem cell technologies and regenerative medicine.

We must look at how we can transform our health service through innovation. That must include support and encouragement for the biomedical industry as there are many exciting opportunities for stem cell technology to improve people’s lives.

Dr Luis-Francisco Acevedo-Hueso is a researcher at BioTSptech and Converge Challenge 2017 Top 30 finalist.