Saskatchewan

Surgeon says Regina is wasting opportunities to harvest human tissue, is instead buying from U.S.

A Regina surgeon says the provincial health authority is wasting human tissue that could be harvested from transplant donors and is instead purchasing it from private banks, including businesses in the United States.

Jeremy Reed believes buying tissue costs more than paying local surgeons to harvest it

For the past few years, Regina hospitals haven't harvested bone and tissue for their own tissue bank. The health authority says it's for financial reasons, but a Regina surgeon is questioning the logic behind that decision. (Shutterstock)

A Regina surgeon says the provincial health authority is wasting human tissue that could be harvested from transplant donors and is instead purchasing it from private banks, primarily in the United States.

Orthopedic surgeon Jeremy Reed said all bone and tendon tissue used in transplants in the Regina area has been purchased.

Hospitals in Regina have stopped harvesting bone and tendon tissue and storing it in a "tissue bank" for later use, as is sometimes the practice in Saskatoon.

Reed said he was told by the health region at the time that harvesting locally for the Regina tissue bank was too expensive.

"From a financial point of view, maybe there's some stuff that I don't understand, but I can't fathom the idea that paying $2,500 or $3,000 for a tendon comes in cheaper than having an entire … harvest done here in Regina," he said.

Luke Jackiw, the director of hospital and specialized services at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, said local harvesting for the Regina tissue bank ended after Health Canada made regulatory changes.

Maybe [the health authority] did sound numbers that showed that it was far more expensive to harvest it, test it and keep it frozen locally, but I highly doubt it.- Dr. Jeremy Reed

"There's a significant amount of time, energy and resources that go into maintaining the quality assurance associated with tissue banking, with tissue harvesting, with tissue storage," said Jackiw.

"A smaller centre like Regina likely wasn't a sustainable financial model."  

Jackiw said the shift from harvesting to purchasing tissue is a trend across Canada, pointing to a Canadian Blood Services report that says at least eight surgical bone banks closed between 2002 and 2010.

Reed said he is aware of other regions making the switch, but he questioned why the Regina bank was deemed too expensive to run when local harvesting still occurs in Saskatoon.  

Cost of buying likely exceeds local harvesting: surgeon

He estimates the tissue that could be yielded from one cadaver would be worth about $40,000 or $50,000 to buy from a private tissue bank.

"They could pay me or my colleagues $1,500 bucks to come in, do a harvest, even if it's two or three in the morning," said Reed.

"We would harvest the femurs, the tibias, all of the tendons and have those sent away to be tested and frozen right away. And I mean just those parts of the anatomy .. it's probably 15 to 20 thousand dollars in graft [tissue] that would have to be purchased otherwise."

He said most of the tissue he uses comes from New Jersey in the United States.

"Maybe [the health authority] did sound numbers that showed that it was far more expensive to harvest it, test it and keep it frozen locally, but I highly doubt it," said Reed.

He is not opposed to using purchased tissue, which he says is of high quality, but believes local opportunities should not be wasted. 

Health authority says cost is tied to regulatory demands

Jackiw said the cost is associated with meeting regulatory demands.

"There's a lot of capital investment, there's a lot of human resource investment, and time and energy that needs to go into quality assurance," said Jackiw.

"If you factor in the costs associated with meeting all of the regulatory requirements, both federally and provincially, it makes sense to have these tissue banks in larger centres [than Regina]."

He was not able to answer questions about why the Saskatoon tissue bank is still able to run because he said he did not believe it was still operational.

The Saskatoon branch of the Saskatchewan Health Authority confirmed that a tissue bank is still running in Saskatoon.

Its website says the Tissue and Bone Bank team obtains bone from living and deceased donors, heart valves from deceased donors in co-operation with Alberta Health Services, and amniotic membrane from elective C-section deliveries. 

This work is part of the Saskatchewan Health Authority's Transplant Program.