Posts Tagged ‘medical research’

I ain’t got no money, honey!

April 14, 2010

Here’s my third article about the SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device, the first two are HERE and HERE) but for this post, I’ve found a photo of the machine at work. Here it is, with the “snout” pressed against the obviously pregnant patient. There’s just one problem: Read the article that accompanies the photograph, and you’ll learn that the company that built this particular unit is no longer in business.

This is one of the more painful things about living in a bad economy, and few people realize it. The economy slows down, people lose jobs, and money becomes scarce, Medical Research is one of the fields that suffers.

Assume a Hospital/University/Drug company has a surplus that can be used in any manner they choose. Most of the money will be spent, but the account is  replenished every month. What would you do with it?

If you are head of our fictious University, you’ll probably have a lot of different groups with their hands out. Security needs some of the money – we’re obligated to keep our students safe. Housing gets some, Athletics gets a chunk, the Science department needs some… and of course, some of it will go to Research. And since our University is affiliated with a medical school and a hospital, some of that cash will be earmarked for Medical Research.

Then suddenly there is an economic downturn and our surplus isn’t as large as it once was. Everybody has to make do with less. The economic downturn morphs in to a crisis and the surplus is even less. Now something has to give, and everybody has to figure out what they can live without. Some programs and plans get shifted to the back burner, and we’ll pick them up again when things are looking brighter.

And when the medical research has to be cut back, we all suffer. Take for example the Coapsys, which is a neat little idea. The Coapsys is two pads and a string, passed through the heart and then a little bit of tension applied. The idea was that the cord could reshape an enlarged heart and force a leaky Mitral Valve to work better.

Say what? That sounds pretty far-fetched.

The funny thing is, the bloomin’ thing works! A clinical trial showed that no one who received the device had a complication during the time they were in the hospital to receive the device, and the mortality rate was about half that of those who received the traditional valve replacement.

Sounds great! The bad news is, the company that developed the device went out of business during the trials. Another company bought the Coapsys device and all intellectual property associated with it – but has no plans to further develop the device or market it. The article doesn’t say, but it might be a fair guess to assume that the financial crunch has them down, too.  No one is immune.

Thankfully the Coapsys survives, and the trials look good. And anything that shows positive results with little to no side effects, AND with a lesser chance of passing away… that device will be on the market one day.

But right now, the people who need it have to wait.

We can fix that!

February 3, 2010

I keep writing about advances in cell therapy, cell transplantation, and cell replacement options that are coming in the future. You might think that this is all dream technology – the kind of ideas you have that always start with “Wouldn’t it be nice if…”

All this is exciting stuff, but it won’t be ready tomorrow. Medical research takes time – as much as you want something to work, you can’t rush it. I am sure that Heart Defect researchers know the percentages, they know that roughly 105 people per day are born with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) – but they also know that if they don’t get this right, they could inadvertently make a bad situation much worse. And sometimes “getting it right” means trial on human subjects. Early versions of the Fontan Procedure didn’t live up to expectations, but further research and study has made it into a better operation. Sometimes you just have to hold your breath and step into the unknown.

Since we don’t hear that much about medical research until something hits (or goes wrong), you may wonder who’s out there? How many companies are looking for answers? I can’t give you a total number, but a recent report, Tissue Engineering, Cell Therapy and Transplantation: Products, Technologies & Market Opportunities, Worldwide, 2009-2018, gives us some good information about tissue and cell research. The numbers are staggering: In the report, 148 companies are profiled (Click here for a list) and they account for a total of over $1.5 Billion US Dollars spent annually.

Whoa!

The report isn’t for “normal” people – it’s intended for corporations and foundations that might want to drop a spare million dollars or so into a research project but aren’t sure where to start.  (Of course, the only thing you need to obtain a copy of the report is $2,950!) Looking over the detailed table of contents is a real eye opener, it contains not only a list of companies working in the field but also worldwide research goals. There is not a research project titled “Limiting/Curing Congenital Heart Defects” listed anywhere, but CHD related projects are widespread. One of the major goals is combating Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) – Heart Failure often accompanies a CHD, and reducing or eliminating CHF will really cut down on some of the healthcare costs we all endure. More than half of my medication is designed to keep my CHF at bay. Another research goal is replacing heart valves, and a third is heart transplantation – issues that CHDers could very well have to deal with.

And that’s not all. Looking down the list of possible therapies, you notice that someone has a plan to replace or repair almost every body part! I’m hitting the “ol’ man” stage and my bones are beginning to creak, I’d like to have a talk with some of these people.

So take heart – we’re not out here alone.