Centring the global context of stem cell transplant: “a treatment not yet accessible to all”

I was recently invited to speak at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Enviroments of Health. At the event, a symposium on health and nationalism, I spoke alongside Lara Choksey, the event organiser, and colleagues John Narayan (King’s College London), Des Fitzgerald (Exeter), and Alexandre White (Johns Hopkins). 

The event was inspired by my paper with Des, John and Amy Hinterberger on the way in which the NHS was mobilised in the 2016 Brexit referendum leave campaign, but my contribution to the symposium was quite different, based more on recent thinking around the global ambitions of the international network of stem cell registries.

The WHO describes stem cell transplant as ‘a treatment not yet accessible to all’ – indeed, most of the world’s oldest registries are based in Europe and Northern America. However, various organisations – both individual registries and the organisations that unite them – are actively engaged in international registry development. In the paper, I explored some of the complexities of trying to turn advanced cellular therapies into genuinely universal treatment options given, for example, internal inequalities within countries (this point is taken up in an important article written by Emily Avera several years ago).

This is not the current focus of this project, but is rather something that I have started to learn more about through engaging with policy makers and practitioners in this area, as such the paper was a broad overview tying together existing literature, rather than a synthesis of my own research. Although Mix & Match is predominantly focused on the UK context of donor recruitment, as it has developed – and as the UK’s health policy as matured in this area from ‘self-sufficiency’ towards increased focus on international registry development – it has become increasingly apparent that this global context is key.

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