Most discussions about stem cells focus on their promise and potential—about what could happen. And rightly so. There’s still so much to accomplish. But it’s also important for us to take an honest look at where we’ve been and then look at what impact stem cell science can have.
A Canadian Legacy
Stem cells represent one of the most significant developments in modern medical science They were discovered by Canadians researchers Drs. James Till & Ernest McCulloch in Toronto just over 50 years ago.
Their work was not only recognized with a Lasker Award—often considered the North American equivalent of the Nobel Prize—but their discovery caught the attention of generations of Canadians scientists who have taken it further.
Today, Canada’s researchers are globally recognized leaders. In a review published in Nature Immunology in 2002, almost half of the 35 most significant stem cell papers published in the last half of the 20th century were authored by Canadians. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about neural stem cells, retinal stem cells, skin stem cells, cancer stem cells or others, you’re going to be talking about Canadians. We’re also internationally respected for our expertise in the ethical, legal and social issues that arise from stem cell science.
Transforming Health—Transforming Health Care
The potential of stem cell science to help those who are living with disease and other serious medical conditions is clear. With stories such as those of Jennifer Molson, we know what’s possible and we can see some early successes.
When we think about the impact of stem cells on our health care system, the potential is no less important. For example, there are about 1,500 spinal cord injuries in Canada every year. The direct costs of treatment are approximately $500,000 per case. If stem cell science can help to repair spinal nerve cells, we could potentially save as about $800 million. Treat diabetes: $3.5 billion. Heart disease: $1 billion. Strokes: $700 million. Include Parkinson’s, hemophilia A, MS and macular degeneration, and we could reduce health care costs by as much as $8.5 billion annually.
There’s also the economic impact of new infrastructure and support industries as stem cell therapies begin to reach patients. In fact, even in 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the regenerative medicine market would grow to as much as $500 billion globally.
Canada is better positioned than most to continue to lead in this field. We were the pioneers of stem cell research and we continue to be globally recognized leaders. We have the opportunity to transform our health care system and create new opportunities in the economy. And at the centre of all of this is the health of those we love. The lives that can be transformed as new therapies reach the clinic.