Bahamas plans first stem cell procedure

Friday November 9th, 2012

Doctors Hospital will play host to a piece of Bahamian medical history this week.

Top Bahamian doctors will perform the country's first stem cell procedure at the private hospital, essentially opening the flood gates to a cutting-edge technique with serious medical tourism potential.

The operation will also be observed by doctors from the U.S. for research purposes.

Dr. Conville Brown, leading cardiologist and founder of the Bahamas Heart Center, called the procedure "major league" for the medical tourism product.

"We'll be doing our first patient in The Bahamas this week," he said. "It will be the first of several. They have gone through the ethnical process and we hope to bring positive fame to The Bahamas."

The technique, using the body's own cells, has not yet gained full approval in the U.S. However, the intervention is gaining momentum among investors and the medical community.

Late last month, reports surfaced in the international media that Gail Cogdill, the former National Football League (NFL) star, was planning a stem cell procedure here in the capital to repair his failing heart. The once NFL Rookie of the Year, however, is not covered under U.S. medical insurance.

The Cogdills are trying to raise $35,000 through the website GoFundMe.com. While it is unknown whether Cogdill is the country's first stem cell patient, it appears likely. An update on Cogdill's profile states that the family travelled to Nassau yesterday on the advice of doctors.

The stem cells would be extracted in Nassau, sent to Israel for treatment and then reinserted in the patient at a higher capacity.

Barry Rassin, the president of Doctors Hospital, revealed that the institution is looking to establish a stem cell lab at the Shirley Street location by the spring of next year. The move would eliminate the need to "out-source" the stem cells, boost efficiency and help the BISX-listed firm become a leader in the technique.

"Stem cell procedures are the wave of the future," Rassin told Guardian Business. "We want to get involved. We are very aware of its growing importance."

Indeed, there are a number of clinics jockeying for position here in The Bahamas.

Guardian Business has learned that the government is now attempting to draft stem cell regulations in an effort to catch up with the demand.

In anticipation of the historic procedure this week, Brown said stem cell therapy offers serious tourism potential. Medical tourists tend to travel in large groups, stay for long periods of time, and partake in typical activities or services as everyday visitors.

"We'll be the first to do this procedure," he added. "This is major league for medical tourism. The parents we are talking about are coming into the country and bringing their families. Once the volumes get up and standards are maintained, we can be poised as one of the number one medical tourism destinations in the world."

Rassin revealed that Doctors Hospital's plan to construct a stem cell lab "will not be inexpensive," although he did not provide specifics on the financials. He expressed a desire to partner with doctors at the hospital to alleviate the up-front cost.

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