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Harris Defends Regenerative Medicine Project

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St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN):  Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris is dismissing as being ill-intentioned, those persons raising questions about a regenerative medicine project underway in St. Kitts.

Speaking to CMC’s Anika Kentish in Antigua on Friday, the Prime Minister insisted that the controversial project had met necessary standards.

“We have a regenerative project that is underway, that has met the test of time, the test of science, the test of due diligence, that is still ongoing,” Dr. Harris said.

“There was some mischief being propagated by some persons who were ill-intentioned with regards to the health sector, that it was a stem cell project. The truth is, we never engaged in the stem cell project of the type that has been propagated.”

The Prime Minister told CMC that the project is part of the government’s thrust to establish itself as a medical tourism destination.

“We’re into regenerative medicine.  We’re seeing this as a significant added value to our medical tourism programme where we can provide a range of support services in health care for those that would want to visit and take advantage of our more therapeutic environment in which to recuperate and that is what we’re attempting to do, make a contribution to the health and welfare of the world through our involvement in regenerative medicine,” he explained.

Retiring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Martin has come in for heavy fire from the Prime Minister and Junior Minister of Health Wendy Phipps for referring to the project as a stem cell initiative.

Initially the Junior Minister vehemently denied that the research was a stem cell project.  She later acknowledged however, that the project does involve the stimulation of stem cells.

“The other side of the equation under regenerative medicine is that of cord blood plasma type therapies which are platelet infused – and that type of therapy of the like being done at the JNF – is done by [an] IV treatment, and what the scientist is in fact trying to do is to encourage the human body into creating its own stem cell for regenerative purposes, for example, the repair of damaged tissue and organs,” she told reporters earlier this month.

Dr. Martin, who has emphasized that he does not have an issue with stem cell research in principle, has challenged the way in which the project was set up.

He has charged that a Brazilian doctor – said to just be overseeing the project – was actually practicing without the appropriate local registration or license.  Dr. Martin says he found her on the project’s wards in scrubs, gloves and wearing a stethoscope.

While the government has not addressed the reasons he provided for charging that she was ‘on the job,’ the Minister said last month that the process had been started to get the doctor licensed and registered to practice in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Meanwhile she advised that the project was utilizing three rooms at the back of the state-owned JNF Hospital in Basseterre.  She indicated that a staff doctor and nurse were administering the therapies with oversight by the Medical Chief of Staff and the Director of Institutional-Based Nursing Services.

“There [is] expertise from overseas.  There are local doctors that are involved in this project,” the Prime Minister told CMC on Friday.

“There are local nurses who have been trained to deliver the kind of health services that the clients will demand, so there are significant benefits to our people, both in terms of work, both in terms of an ability to engage in and to be involved in high level scientific and…medical work and all these we think are positive and redound for a better St. Kitts and Nevis,” he said, indicating that the Federation was still new to the industry.

“We’re at the preliminary stage and so in due course we hope to see that this particular branch of medical tourism, would bring a large number of tourists to our shores who would stay for a decent period of time and who will contribute significantly to the economy with the expenditures they will undertake in a wide range of areas from accommodation to health to transportation to entertainment, etcetera, etcetera.”

In addition to his questions about the project oversight, the retiring CMO Dr. Martin has also claimed that proper protocols were not used in setting it up, including his insistence that as CMO he ought to have been consulted as part of the process.

The government has dismissed his charges.

The St. Kitts and Nevis Medical Association has said that it supports the practice of medicine that is evidence-based.

In a statement issued on July 13th, the Association said that it supports research involving human subjects that is legally established and ethically monitored by accepted standards.

It states that it recognizes the St. Kitts and Nevis Medical Board and any ethical board that may be convened under governing legislation, as the guardians in such issues and says that it “supports the role of the Chief Medical Officer, in ensuring that these standards be upheld.”

In a recent interview Chairman and President of the Orthopedic Research Foundation Dr. David Fisher, who does research in orthopedic joint replacement told WINN FM that the two primary reasons why medical research and therapy is done outside of the United States is that it is less costly and regulations are less prohibitive.

“Probably the most…glaring one would be cost.  It may be less expensive to do,” Dr. Fisher said.

“Studies outside of the United States there may be fewer regulatory hurdles  that they have to overcome, so that’s one of the reasons why they may have to go outside.  Now some research would not be approved by the FDA, if it’s the use of stem cells – for instance use of embryonic stem cells – in our ability to do any research with that in the United States, and so other countries they allow that a little bit more freely than they do here.  So that becomes a hurdle,” Dr. Fisher said.

The experimental regenerative medicine research project underway in St. Kitts has been described as Umbilical Cord Blood Plasma Infusion therapy.  The plasma which is said to use plasma from umbilical cords, with the mother’s permission, is being prepared by an overseas facility.