Announced RegenMed expansion 'a complete game-changer' for Thunder Bay biomedical facility

The head of a not-for-profit biomedical facility in Thunder Bay, Ont., says it has a stable future and can do very meaningful work after the finalization of a long-awaited partnership with the provincial government.

Executive director David Stezenko says RegenMed to be Ontario's sole provider of tissues for transplants

RegenMed is now the province's sole provider of essential heart valve, bone, tendon and skin tissue. (Google Street View)

The head of a not-for-profit biomedical facility in Thunder Bay, Ont., says it has a stable future and can do very meaningful work after the finalization of a long-awaited partnership with the provincial government.

"It's phenomenal," executive director David Stezenko said of the announcement that the Lake Superior Centre for Regenerative Medicine, or RegenMed, is the province's partner to supply bone, tendon, skin and heart valve tissue for use in transplant surgery.

"The province will completely rely on us to process and distribute those tissues to surgeons across the province."

RegenMed is a stand-alone bone and tissue bank established in Thunder Bay about 15 years ago. It's been providing musculoskeletal products like bone and connective tissue, or allografts, for use in transplants. Friday's announcement means that other tissues, like heart valves and skin for burn surgeries will also be processed in and distributed from Thunder Bay.

"The heart valve transplants are used to save children's lives," Stezenko said.

A written release by the province said that bringing all processing of the bone, tendon, skin and heart value tissue under one roof is part of an expansion of Ontario's ability to provide necessary tissue for surgery and medical research. A 2014 report prepared for Ontario's Trillium Gift of Life Network recommended a number of changes to streamline the province's donation network, including the consolidation of musculoskeletal, skin and cardiac tissue.

Up until now, a number of hospitals and other organizations have formed an ad hoc system.

"In the early days (of deciding where a single centre would be) there was only one thought: that that would be University Avenue in Toronto, that would be with one of the major hospitals in Toronto," Stezenko said. "We were standing in the gap saying 'wait, we have a state-of-the-art facility.'"

"By 2015, 2016, we were part of the main stakeholder group and our option was being taken seriously."

RegenMed will now be fully funded by the province, Stezenko said. Provincial officials added that 27 new jobs are expected to be created in Thunder Bay and RegenMed's facilities expanded.

The stable funding also points to a bright future for the not-for-profit. While the province has provided some operational funding and RegenMed received a FedNor grant in 2016, the organization has also had to borrow money from the City of Thunder Bay, the local Community Economic Development Commission and Thunder Bay Ventures.

The new arrangement will ensure that they can repay those organizations, Stezenko said.

"It was a non-negotiable for us that all of our loans need to be repaid."