Regenerative Medicine: Groundbreaking New Discovery But Its Expensive
Questions raised over the cost of revolutionary treatments
Regenerative medicine, from stem cells to transplants, has brought a paradigm shift in healthcare by offering innovative treatments to cure an array of acute and chronic diseases and conditions. But despite the many benefits of the revolutionary medical research, questions have been raised about its cost.
The astonishing research can see soft tissues, bones and organs regrown and implanted, curing diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s, cancers, strokes, degenerative conditions and maybe even diabetes.
Financial Times reported that diabetes has now become one of the top prospects of regenerative medicine, replacing the insulin-producing beta cells that patients have lost. The process has seen crucial developments, with the beginning world’s first clinical trial of using embryonic stem cells to treat diabetes and advances have been made in generating fully functional beta cells to cure diabetic mice, and the next step is to manufacture enough to treat diabetic humans.
I F**king Love Science reports that regenerative medicine also uses biodegradable polymers (bonded molecular structures) to make structures similar to human tissue, using them as a kind of scaffolding for cells to grow and heal the wounded site.
Despite these incredible breakthroughs in medical practice, many have identified disadvantages to the treatments. Some have raised ethical issues, particularly in stem cell treatments, regarding the use of embryos and the right to life. Others have presented the risks to such treatments, for example trauma scenarios during the surgery such the potential tearing of fragile nerves, ligaments or tendons; or rejection and infection as the immune system may not accept the foreign body implanted into the patient.
But another key point is the cost and affordability of the treatments. The high cost of regenerative technologies includes the expense of the research, development, manufacture and marketing – and investors expect a reasonable return from the large sums they put in. And the fact that we now have an aging population, meaning we have a much higher life expectancy yet we will still deteriorate with age, is putting a strain on medical services because the older the population, the more healthcare it consumes. In the UK, the healthcare committee reports that management of chronic diseases accounts for 75 per cent of all healthcare costs, and by 2022 there will be an NHS funding gap of £44billion to £54billion, highlighting that although regenerative medicine is crucial to providing innovative treatments and improving quality of life, changes need to be made to ensure investor confidence.
These issues were addressed by last year’s Life Science conference, in which experts looked at how global aging affects companies and governments worldwide, and the regenerative medicine research. “It’s a huge economic problem that impacts the bottom line of corporations as well as governments, and every country we can think of”, explained Dr. William A. Haseltine, chairman of ACCESS Health International, according to Forbes. “The question is, what the medical community can contribute on this issue”.
“We have to rethink how we do healthcare, and one of the ways is to extend people’s health span and intervene early on to slow aging and prevent diseases”, echoed Dr. Brian A. Kennedy, CEO of the Bucks Institute of Aging. He argued, “At the moment, the current healthcare system is all about keeping people sick longer, not keeping people healthy”.
The debate on whether regenerative medicine is merely a hopeful vision or will become a prominent field in the medical industry as it is predicted. So far, the breakthroughs achieved by the researchers point to the latter, and despite concerns over costs and risks, more and more trials have proved successful in treating conditions that were once thought as untreatable.
Some have forecasted that regenerative medicine will actually combat rising healthcare costs. Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, writes for CNN, “Regenerative medicine offers the potential to improve the quality of life for many, but also to combat rising health care costs. Early estimates project that regenerative medicine therapies will result in direct health care cost savings in the United States of $250 billion per year for the chronic diseases”.
“The ultimate goal of this project, like all others we pursue, is to develop therapies that can improve patients' lives”, Atala continues. “I believe that with this patient-centered focus, and the opportunity to leverage continuing advances in science and technology to build on the field's early successes, the promise of regenerative medicine will be fulfilled”.