Saturday, January 9, 2010
Travel in Wheelchair to China , Walk Home
According to a study by the Canadian-based McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health (MRC), published today by the UK journal Regenerative Medicine, China's government is pouring dollars generously into regenerative medicine (RM) research and aggressively recruiting high-calibre scientists trained abroad in pursuit of its ambition to become a world leader in the field.
And its strategy is working: Chinese contributions to scientific journals on RM topics leapt from 37 in year 2000 to 1,116 in 2008, exceeded only by the contributions of experts in the USA, Germany, Japan and the UK.
The accomplishment is all the more astonishing given that China's international credibility has been and still is severely hindered by global concerns surrounding Chinese clinics, where unproven therapies continue to be administered to thousands of patients.
New rules to govern such treatments were recently instituted but need to be strictly enforced in order to repair China's global reputation, according to MRC authors Dominique S. McMahon, Halla Thorsteinsdóttir, Peter A. Singer and Abdallah S. Daar.
They drew their conclusions after having gained unprecedented access to almost 50 Chinese researchers, policy makers, clinicians, company executives and regulators for interviews. The research was made possible by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
"When you look at the issue of stem cells in China, you see the Yin-Yang of a scientific powerhouse mixed with controversial clinical application of stem cell therapies," says Dr. Singer, MRC's Director. "The overall picture at the moment is ambiguous but in the future, given the measures that have been put in place, the science can be expected to rise and the controversy to fall."
Regenerative medicine an interdisciplinary field of research and clinical applications focused on the repair, replacement or regeneration of cells, tissues or organs to restore impaired function resulting from any cause, including congenital defects, disease, trauma and aging. It uses a combination of several converging technological approaches, both existing and newly emerging, that moves it beyond traditional transplantation and replacement therapies. The approaches often stimulate and support the body's own self-healing capacity. These approaches may include the use of soluble molecules, gene therapy, stem cell transplants, tissue engineering, and the reprogramming of cell and tissue types.
MRC researchers report that until May 2009 clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of stem cell therapies were not required. Now proof of safety and efficacy through clinical trials is required by China's Ministry of Health for all stem cell and gene therapies.
The change was made after international experts, joined by top Chinese researchers, protested that treatment centers were acting "against commonly accepted principles of modern scientific research" and successfully called on China to regulate new treatments and ensure patient safety.
Despite the new rules, however, stem cell treatments are still available at over 200 hospitals across China to patients of diseases such as ataxia, Lou Gehrig's disease, traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, diabetes, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, optic nerve hypoplasia and many others.