Freeport, Grand Bahama - The Bahamas may have missed the boat on being the first
country with a stem cell research center. One was proposed for Grand Bahama but
due to lack of proper legislation has delayed.
Dr. Kevin Bethel of Freeport Family Wellness Center, made
this statement as he addressed the Rotary Club of Grand Bahama Sunrise on
Wednesday morning at Geneva’s Restaurant.
He stated that at the outset that there has been some
misconceptions about stem cells which he said for the most part was unfounded.
“Because,” he continued, “we have to start with the
definition – what is stem cell? We are not talking about something that is
produced from outer space or high science fiction thing or anything they have been
talking about. All of us have stem cells in our body.
“Stem cells are biologically active cells in the body that
have the ability to transform into any cell line in the body. So there are any
types of stem cells. The basic definition of stem cell is a cell that has the
ability to turn itself into any type of cell.”
Dr. Bethel said that whenever someone has an injury, stem
cells can be taken from the person to regrow and provide self-population for
“So for something as simple as a cut or burn on the skin, we
have stem cells in our skin, and in the fat layers under our skin, that can
transform into the various different types of cells that are necessary for our
skin to grow back. It’s a miracle when you see things like that.”
While admitting that at first the stem cell research began
using placentas, Dr. Bethel said that at this present time, stem cells are
taken from the person who needs it and grown.
He noted that there are two centers in the United States
that are presently serving the world in growing the stem cells taking from the
patients for their own grafting.
The need of transplants from family members or friends is
not needed as much as before he said, as they move into this new technology.
“We have been using stem cells for a long time so this is
nothing new” said Dr. Bethel. “What is new is that we now have the ability to
harvest stem cells from our own bodies and isolate them …. That is current ‘hallabaloo’
is all about in The Bahamas because that was one of the first applications of
taking stem cells from a person, harvesting from any different places on the
persons’ body… and what we can do with those stem cells is we can take them,
isolate and grow them and give them right back to the same person.”
Here he noted that investors previously talked about
creating such a facility here in Grand Bahama for the growth adding that while
such facilities in the US were available and licensable to the use the stem
cell once expanded, had not been approved in all countries of the world.
Dr. Bethel said that one of the first approved uses of this
technology in Europe, Asia, Israel was to use them to grow new heart cells.
“So if someone is having a heart attack, at the same that
they are going to do a CAT they can also inject the same technology, just
inject those stem cells that they have harvested from the same patient into the
heart muscle and it would regenerate new healthy, vibrant heart muscles. It is
The doctor said there is already an international
organization for stem cell research and laboratories and he has been in touch
with them for many years. He added that because of the referrals, some of the players on the field in The
Bahamas right now are interested in doing stem cell facilities and research.
“Of course they are looking for an area that they can set up
and take advantage of the medical tourism model that has become easily
accessible for North America, where the procedures are not yet offered and they
can have some of these procedures that have already been proven in other
countries” said Dr. Bethel. “The use of stem cells to regenerate heart tissue
is already approved and in use and the science is all worked out for how to do
this and it’s still developing.”
He said that The Bahamas had a golden opportunity when we
had a lot of people from Europe, and other areas that had the top technology
interested in coming here and setting up, particularly in Freeport because of
the room to expand.
He added that they were looking at an industry that can grow
- to the point where we would not even know the impact they would have on the
island. He said it would mean filling hotels, and having a facility as big as a
hotel, who would stay for about three or more weeks to have the stem cells
harvested and grown.
Dr. Bethel said however that we had the opportunity and we
had someone who was committing to build the facility, but the project was put
on hold because the government did not have any regulations in the medical act
that spoke to stem cells. So he said we needed to modernize our medical act
which was done recently.
He said he felt the wisest thing to do was to allow the
group to proceed and finish the facility in the year, plus that they had to put
their project on hold and now that the legislation has been approved they could
have just opened the door.
“We are not there now” he stated. “We have another year of
construction yet to go to finish, if they continue to do the project. So the
wise thing would have been to just say, ‘Go ahead. The construction permit was
issued by the Port Authority. Finish the project and the final permission to
treat patients is forthcoming. We are in the process of finalizing the
The doctor revealed that The Bahamas used the Canadian
guidelines that they adapted to The Bahamas for its legislation.
He said he hopes that the investors do decide to continue
with the project which would have huge potential for this island.