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Panel Discussion “Cell Therapy - Medical Advancement or Marketing Myth?”
On October 19th, Albert Hotel hosted a panel discussion “Cell Therapy - Medical Advancement or Marketing Myth?”, which gathered more than 30 attendees, including representatives of IVF Riga (Latvia), as well as the Oslo University Hospital PhD candidate Aleksandra Aizenshtadt (Norway), Director of the Rabin Medical Center Tissue Typing Laboratory Dr. Moshe Israeli (Israel), MTC-GmbH quality consultant Günther Löscher (Austria), Head of the Cell Transplantation Center at Riga Stradins Clinical University Hospital Eriks Jakobsons (Latvia), Saeima Deputy Martins Sics, Head of ARS Diagnostic center Jana Matuzala, as well as biologists, doctors and journalists. Participants discussed the possibilities of stem cell therapy, cell quality control, good manufacturing practice and related ethical aspects.
Leader of the discussion, GenEra molecular geneticist and host of the television programme “BezTabu”, Juris Steinbergs, emphasized that the purpose of the discussion is to bring together scientists and specialists to discuss the difficulties, which arise from working in cell industry, as well as answer the question whether Latvia is ready to work with stem cell technology.
Medical Director of IVF Riga, Dr.Violeta Fodina, pointed out that it is highly important to educate people about stem cells and their benefits, emphasizing that stem cells are a unique source that can be used in development of personalized medicine and therapy. It is important to talk about the safety of stem cell use, and people have to understand the meaning of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and global standards. It is necessary to identify the problems we are having here in Latvia and how to effectively deal with them. According to Dr. Fodina, in order to start stem cell therapy here in Latvia, we need the expertise and experience of our colleagues abroad.
During the discussion, Aleksandra Aizenshtadt explained what stem cells are . The first clinical use of blood stem cells occurred in 1957, and now there have been more than 100 000 cases of stem cell therapy. A. Aizenshtadt emphasized that this type of therapy is no longer a novelty in the world of medicine, and nowadays it has become the first option in treatment of blood diseases. There are ongoing clinical trials, which are controlled in accordance with good clinical practice. Additionally, A. Aizenshtadt stressed the fact that not all research findings can be believed, and research results should be critically evaluated. While there are several studies currently underway in the United States, not all of them have received an FDA permit.
Gunther Loscher stressed the importance of complying with Good Manufacturing Practice principles (GMP), as the end product has to be safe, effective and of good quality. In addition, he emphasized that the whole production process has to be controllable and traceable.
Dr. Moshe Israeli pointed out that stem cell therapy is changing and progressing, but there are still many ethical aspects that have to be respected. It is important to evaluate who are stem cell donors and who are the recipients. As medical professionals, we must ensure the safety of our patients as there are still plenty of unknown and unexplained side effects of stem cell therapy that could potentially emerge in distant future. At the same time, if such studies and treatments are avoided, there will be no visible progress in the field of medicine. Dr. Moshe Israeli stressed the importance of respecting patient confidentiality and being aware of the acceptable, as well as unacceptable actions related to patient private data and information. As of now, there are a lot of ongoing debates around stem cells, all of which leave their mark on the world, therefore it is difficult to separate right from wrong. Stem cell industry is moving forward, and everyone related to this field should cooperate and start communicating.
Eriks Jakobsons spoke about stem cell use in Latvia, which has been ongoing for more than 10 years. Unfortunately, the development process of stem cell therapy in Latvia is very slow and complicated, as the State Agency of Medicines has not yet developed formal requirements related to this field. In order to achieve better treatment results, cells must be quantified, and their quality must be presented after cultivation. However, when the State Agency of Medicines is questioned about the most appropriate way of result presentation, there is no clear response.
Juris Steinbergs expressed his desire to have such discussions more often in order to educate the public and politicians. Stem cells are not magic - they are a part of a normal medical practice, which is supported by an in-depth research and strict quality control.