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Sean Mullin, 49, has taken over $2 million worth of drugs to save him from a rare, but deadly lung disease. He first noticed this when he was in the office of his rental service and felt a sharp pain in his right arm. The disease is pulmonary arterial hypertension. Luckily, his wife’s drug plan covers the cost. Some of this medicine must be taken intravenously so Sean wears a drip all the time. He also has to have a steady supply of oxygen tanks to stay alive.

Presently, there is no cure for this lethal disease.

Mullin, who lives in southeast Ottawa, is closely watching the work being done at the Ottawa Hospital by Dr. Duncan Stewart and colleagues.

Stewart’s work on stem cell therapy offers hope, although it is now still in early development stages.

Stewart and his colleagues recently published the world’s first clinical trial results of therapy that treats the rare disease that Mullins has. The trial was based on genetically enhanced stem cell therapy. However, this one trial is a small step in the development process. But the results are promising for those suffering from this disease.

Stewart recognized the need for further testing by stating that larger studies will be required. Those studies will help determine the therapy’s usage and its durability to benefit the sufferers.

Funding that will be needed to actually treat patients is uncertain. This uncertainty is despite other stem cell treatments that have shown potential.

Canada is where stem cells were discovered and has been the leader in research in this field. Ironically, now that the therapy is showing new potential, researchers are facing more uncertainty about how they will get research funding.

Stewart is also heading a trial on the use of genetically enhanced stem cell therapy for heart attack damage. He stated that he thinks his jurisdiction is slipping further behind others in getting necessary funding.

Pharmaceutical companies have funded Phase 2 of these studies in the past, but are unlikely to do so now. Stewart said the academic researchers are responsible for the testing to move their work ahead. The first trial for pulmonary arterial hypertension carried a price tag of about $4 million. The research would total at least quadruple that amount in for Phase 2.

Canada has less research and trial funding available due to research funding changes. After 14 years, the Stem Cell Network, which has been an excellent source of funding for various research, is shutting down.

A coalition of researchers, advocates, and charities, called the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is calling for $1.5 billion for a Canadian stem cell strategy. Even with this push, the federal government has not announced any funding. California and Japan, however, have invested $3 billion and over $1 billion, respectively, for stem cell research.

Canada has been a world leader in this research, but foundation president and chief executive, James Price, says some of that funding is coming to an end. In addition, patients have started traveling around the world to seek treatments that have not been tested and are expensive.

In the upcoming federal election, the foundation will plead its case to voters.

Stewart has studied pulmonary arterial hypertension extensively, even though the disease strikes one or two out of a million people. He has found through research that a synergy with using progenitor cells reinforced by an extra gene helps promote blood vessel repair. The same method is used for stem cells to restore the heart after an attack.

Sean Mullin says, “I pray for stem cell therapy. I just pray. It is the easiest way out for me.” There is a long road ahead to establish the safety and effectiveness of this stem cell treatment. And, it all depends on financial support.