Dr. Peter Hollands is the Chief Scientific Officer of Wide Cells Group PLC and a founding father of modern regenerative medicine. His stem cell research began at Cambridge University in the late1970’s and he continues to work at the threshold of human knowledge and understanding of stem cells and their therapeutic potential.
We talked to Dr. Hollands about his own professional journey, and about how stem cell science has progressed during his career. Dr. Hollands also shared his insights into the future of regenerative medicine and the roles of umbilical cord blood and stem cell insurance in that future.
Dr. Hollands, thank you for talking to us today. Please tell us a little about your professional journey to your current position as Chief Medical Officer.
I trained at Cambridge University and carried out my PhD at Cambridge University working on some of the very early ideas in modern stem cell technology. I then trained as a Clinical Embryologist and worked at the first IVF clinic in the world called Bourn Hall Clinic.
During my career I have worked as an Academic in several Universities, worked for private biotechnology and stem cell companies and worked with the NHS at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. All of these positions involved teaching, research and clinical work in stem cell technology.
I met João Andrade and Lopes Gil shortly after they created WideCells and I am now delighted to be the Chief Scientific Officer of the WideCells Group PLC. In November 2017 I will receive a Visiting Chair in Regenerative Medicine from the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, Department of Regenerative Medicine.
Do you remember when you first heard about the therapeutic potential of stem cells?
Yes, I was in an undergraduate lecture at Cambridge University in 1978 and in a lecture about the transplantation of bone marrow stem cells. Bone marrow stem cells were the only stem cells in clinical use at that time but the lecturer, who was to become my PhD Supervisor, said that stem cells may be found in other tissues and that these stem cells could possibly be used to repair tissues. This was possibly one of the first references to what is known today as regenerative medicine and prompted me to carry out my PhD research, which laid the basis for modern cell therapy.
“This was possibly one of the first references to what is known today as regenerative medicine and prompted me to carry out my PhD research, which laid the basis for modern cell therapy.”
(Dr. Peter Hollands describes the moment, at Cambridge University in 1978, that he first heard of the therapeutic potential of stem cells.)
How have things changed since that time?
Completely. Stem cells have been found in almost every tissue in the body and clinical trials are underway using stem cells to treat a wide range of diseases. It has even become possible to artificially create stem cells from normal body cells by inserting genes into normal cells, which transform them into stem cells. These are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and these cells could be important in future stem cell therapies.
How do you anticipate regenerative medicine will change in the next 40 years?
Such predictions are always difficult but it seems that stem cells are here to stay! There are numerous stem cell research laboratories in all of the leading universities across the world and clinical trials are starting on a daily basis. New concepts are also being developed such as our own work on laser activation of stem cells, which introduces new ways of thinking such as quantum biology.
Such approaches could revolutionise the way in which we think about and manipulate cell biology and cell function. We are also working towards a stem cell treatment for osteoporosis and the clinical production of iPSC (mentioned above). Research is key to our operations at WideCells and such research will enable stem cell treatments to become routine in the years to come.
From a medical perspective, why are umbilical cord blood stem cells so special?
Cord blood stem cells were first transplanted to treat a blood disorder called Fanconi’s anaemia in 1988 following extensive laboratory research in the preceding years. The recipient (Mathew Farrow) received his sister’s cord blood stem cells and he is alive and well today. Since then cord blood stem cells have been transplanted over 40,000 times worldwide for approximately 80 different blood disorders including leukaemia. Cord blood stem cells can be collected at the birth of every baby and are easily processed and frozen to be ready to use when needed. These stem cells are therefore collected from medical waste, which would otherwise be discarded.
The collection of cord blood has resulted in two types of storage: public and private. In public cord blood banks pregnant women donate their cord blood to the public bank and once processed and stored the cord blood stem cells are made available for transplantation into any patient in need worldwide. In private cord blood banks parents pay a fee to privately store their cord blood for use within their family only. Cord blood stem cells can be transplanted with up to a 50% mismatch between donor and recipient making a privately stored cord blood an almost certain match for all close family members.
Cord blood transplantation is now the first line treatment for many blood disorders especially in children. Cord blood is also in clinical trial for the treatment of cerebral palsy and autism and the initial results are very promising.
Where does CellPlan fit in?
One of the major barriers to cord blood stem cell transplantation is cost. A routine cord blood transplant carried out with no complications costs at least £300,000. Complicated cases can cost considerably more, anything up to £1 million. Many families who have chosen to privately store their cord blood to protect their family have found that when a transplant was needed then it could not go ahead for purely financial reasons.
CellPlan is a medical insurance product which private cord blood clients can purchase to provide funding for transplantation if needed. CellPlan provides an expert second medical opinion including recommendation of the best treatment centre worldwide, transport of the patient and an accompanying person to the treatment centre, full treatment costs up to £1 million and return to home after treatment.
CellPlan also provides funding to provide a second cord blood unit from a public bank should a double cord blood transplantation (using both a privately stored cord blood unit and a public cord blood unit together) be required, as well as providing funding for patients who wish to take part in registered clinical trials using cord blood stem cells to treat cerebral palsy.
What are your hopes for CellPlan Excel Global Membership Programme?
CellPlan Excel is aimed specifically at those private cord blood banks worldwide that operate to the highest clinical and scientific standards. This enables these private cord blood banks to offer CellPlan to their past and present clients which will ensure that funding is available should the cord blood be needed for transplantation.
In your opinion, what is the greatest benefit for families in banking cord blood and protecting their family with CellPlan?
Private banking of cord blood stem cells provides a priceless resource to families in the event of stem cells being required to treat a blood disorder. Many families, especially mixed race families, find it impossible to find suitably matched stem cells for transplant and many patients die while searching for a suitable donor. Cord blood collection, processing and storage is now a highly reliable process which provides life saving stem cells if needed.
The protection CellPlan offers to private cord blood clients is critical as many transplants cannot proceed for financial reasons. CellPlan provides the peace of mind that should a stem cell transplant be required then a second medical opinion, treatment centre recommendation, travel to the treatment centre, all transplant costs and travel home will be covered up to a total cost of £1 million
Thank you Dr. Hollands and we look forward to hearing about your continued work.
How to store your baby’s umbilical cord blood and tissue
With over 500 private cord blood banks storing millions of cord blood units worldwide, and an estimated 250,000 new collections every year, it can be hard to know which cord blood bank to choose. So, how do you know where to go for the best service?
CellPlan partners exclusively with the best cord blood banks in the world; only these blood banks meet our stringent criteria and qualify for our Excel Global Membership Programme.
To locate a cord blood bank in your area, please use the search tool here.
How to apply for CellPlan insurance
Applying for CellPlan insurance is easy. You can request your free quote, brochure, or call back here.