Adult Stem Cells and Life Sciences

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate 7:00 pm, 15th September 2015

The hon. Gentleman and I have for a number of years been party to reports recommending to Government that we need to invest in research to provide better long-term outcomes in transplantation and future therapeutic treatments.

One key area is Alzheimer’s, and some of us may have received a briefing from the Alzheimer’s Society. We know from our constituencies the huge impact of Alzheimer’s. There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, and this is forecast to rise to over 1 million by 2025 and to exceed 2 million by 2050. A technique was developed in 2012 to turn adult cells into nerve cells, which again highlights the curative potential of stem cell transplantation. That can be particularly helpful in understanding and testing potential treatments for Alzheimer’s.

The Minister will know that the estimated cost of Alzheimer’s is a staggering £4.3 billion, which is approximately 3.4% of total NHS spending in the UK in 2013. Observing the initial stages of Alzheimer’s in nerve cells can give scientists clues to help them identify genetic risk factors. It can also be used to test potential treatments to see whether the damage from Alzheimer’s can be stopped. We are a long way from that, but it is an illustration of how important it is for us to carry out further research into adult stem cell transplantation. Indeed, it is vital; it makes economic sense and will save lives.

I wish to focus on my involvement with the all-party group on stem cell transplantation and to highlight the potential of cord blood donations to transform our ability to meet the needs of every patient who requires a stem cell transplant, including black, Asian and minority ethnic patients, who have suffered from such poor transplantation outcomes. It is a scandal that, in 2010, just 40% of BAME patients were able to find a well-matched stem cell donor. That figure has increased now to 60%, which is really welcome, and the Government can take plaudits for that. The £4 million that was pledged in 2013 and the total investment of more than £12 million since 2011, along with all the investment from the charitable sector, have made a difference, but we still face a situation in which four in 10 people from the black, Asian and minority ethnic community are unlikely to find a match, which is not good enough. We must do more, and I urge the Minister to support continued and sustained investment as we approach the next spending review.

We need to focus on the outcomes. Of the 6,200 patients who will receive a stem cell donation between now and 2020, one in three will not survive their first year after transplant. Of those who do survive their first year, many will suffer a number of post-transplant complications, including relapse, infection and graft versus host disease.

Since 1993, the collection of stem cells from cord blood and bone marrow has increased at impressive rates, meeting the needs of many patients in the UK. Over the past three years, we have seen progress in a number of areas. Cord banking rates have tripled, a quarter of all cord transplants in the UK are now sourced domestically, and the cost of transplants to the NHS has decreased dramatically. But the urgent need for improvements in long-term outcomes remains. In order to make the necessary progress, the UK needs to ensure that the early-stage advancements are sustainable by investing in long-term research, which is the focus of this debate, identifying improvements to treatments and developing potentially new life-saving therapies. So what needs to be done?