Future Health: A Good News story

Future Health Nottingham, Sept 18th.  L to R: Managing Director George Mcridis; RFH; Director Roger Dainty

Future Health Nottingham, Sept 18th. L to R: Managing Director George Mcridis; RFH; Director Roger Dainty

Here, at last, is a Good News story — although you might prefer not read it over lunch, given the subject matter!
I’ve just been to visit a modern, hi-tech, sunrise company here in the East Midlands, at Nottingham Science Park, which is embedded in the region and linked to its global markets through the DHL hub at East Midlands Airport.  It’s called Future Health, and its business is the collection and storage, on a commercial basis, of umbilical blood, from which it collects and classifies stem cells.  These cryogenically-stored stem cells will be available for decades to treat a range of potential illnesses, especially anaemias and cancers, in the individual — whether child, teenager or adult — at whose birth the stem cells were harvested.
Stem cells are also available elsewhere to treat other patients with conditions requiring them, but if their own stem cells are not available through a storage system like Future Health, it becomes very hit-and-miss whether matching stem cells would be available from other sources around the world.  And if they are available, perhaps from another country, the fee for obtaining them, never mind the subsequent treatment, can cost a substantial five-figure sum.  But the cost of collecting and storing a baby’s own stem cells is measured in hundreds rather than thousands of pounds.
New applications are continuously being discovered for stem cell therapy.  There was a report in the press only this week of new research showing the potential of stem cells treatments to correct red/green colour blindness.  There have already been rudimentary attempts to construct replacement organs from stem cells — a trachea has been constructed — and it may well be that over the decades while today’s stem cells are in storage, remarkable new applications will emerge.
One key problem faced by the company is the marketing of the service and the collection of stem cells.  Given that in the UK, the NHS has a virtual monopoly on maternity care, the attitude of the NHS is critical, and is frequently less than helpful to commercial enterprises.  Future Health would be happy to pay the NHS to collect the umbilical blood (it is a quick and straightforward procedure), or to send a qualified person into the maternity unit to do the job.  Some NHS hospitals simply refuse to allow either approach, thus denying mothers and babies the chance to undertake this potentially life-saving procedure.  Of course no new mother should be pressured to adopt such a procedure, but equally it seems reasonable that they should have a right to information, and a right to arrange to have blood collected if they wish to do so.
There are potential benefits as well for the NHS.  They could create a new income stream in maternity units simply by collecting the samples, on a fee basis.  And further down the road, they could potentially save many thousands of pounds for a patient needing stem cell treatment if the appropriate stem cells were available in Nottingham, and did not have to be traced and purchased around the world.
I am delighted that Future Health is established in this region, and I very much hope that the next Conservative government will insist that the NHS take a much more helpful — and commercially savvy — approach to procedures and technologies like this.

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