Like most sectors, the medical travel market includes providers of many different sizes. Here’s how they might be affected:
The small and market-sensitive: Mainly medical travel consultants, startups and small agencies (facilitators). These individuals tend to have limited budgets and cash flow, and are most sensitive to fluctuations in medical travel flow due to ‘COVpanic’. They are likely to cut back on marketing and customer services immediately, dismiss personnel (if they have any) and potentially even disappear from the market. It may also be difficult for them to restart their business after the COVID-19 crisis.
The medium size medical travel providers: these professionals, mainly average size clinics or agencies, are in a better position. They might consider the COVpanic just as another crisis, possibly downsize their staff, reduce their spending, and cancel their participation in events. They will be more committed to maintaining their business through the crisis.
The large and well-established businesses in medical travel: these professionals, mainly large clinics, hospitals, hospital groups and the largest agencies have heavily invested in an international patient business which has, pre-COVID-19, generated high revenues. They are the most resilient to a business downturn due to COVpanic. It is likely they will continue to invest in this business, and will take a pragmatic approach to foreign patient cancellations. For them, this is just another crisis that will pass.
There is one other provider group within the medical travel sector, who could be any sized, whom I call the “wise ones”. They will use their time when there are fewer customer interactions, for preparation and reorganization. They will update themselves about what is currently changing in the international patient market, train their people, rewrite their business plan, apply healthcare protocols, and search for new markets. They will also try to identify the ‘where and when’ of future opportunities once the COVpanic subsides.
Impact on medical travel events
Event organizers are as sensitive to the impact of COVID-19 as tourism providers. Many medical travel events, especially the ones that were scheduled during the first six months of 2020 have been cancelled or moved to a future date.
This has been influenced by the personal choice of people not wanting to travel, but also in several countries there are now national restrictions on public gatherings.
Seasoned event organizers have downsized their events (and expenses) by booking smaller halls and anticipating fewer delegates, rather than stepping out of the market entirely. Medical travel exhibitions have proved even more sensitive than conferences, as they need a high number of anticipated visitors in order to be sustained.
In this space, we might see live streaming and use of technology to facilitate knowledge sharing and networking by remote delegates, take a more central role in medical travel events in the future.
Planning recovery after COVID-19: it’s about patient perception
The more pragmatic media articles predict that, like other flu, health or political crises, COVID-19 will pass. We just don’t know when.
Some physicians believe that it will peak soon, then decrease during the summer months.
To attract international travellers as tourism picks up again, flights and accommodation costs may be very competitively priced. Treatment costs will possibly follow, along with the other related services in medical travel. The first medical travellers after COVID-19 are likely to enjoy their treatment journey at very affordable prices and with no waiting time at all.
The established medical travel destinations, whose governments and health bodies have best managed to contain COVID-19 may be seen as ‘safer’ countries for patients looking at healthcare options abroad. Medical travel providers in these countries who have survived the COVpanic are the ones who are likely to enjoy the first fruits of the post COVID-19 era.
Finally, lessons from COVID-19 are an opportunity for accreditation companies. Healthcare quality assurance is now an even hotter topic and so far, many hospitals with certifications from high quality accreditation companies have been well prepared to handle the crisis. A line of protocols that was applied to hospitals (mainly private) has played a significant role in identifying this virus early, so protecting the rest of the hospital patients. With other hospitals, maybe COVID-19 will be the motivation for providers to improve and become safer for the patient
Killer T-Cell Discovery Could Mean ‘Universal’ Cancer Treatment A new type of killer T-cell could serve as “one-size-fits-all” cancer therapy.
Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales discovered a different kind of T-cell receptor (TCR)—one that recognizes and kills most human cancer cells while ignoring healthy ones.
The early-stage findings, published this week in the journal Nature Immunology, have not yet been tested in patients. But the team said they have “enormous potential.”
T-cells are a type of lymphocyte (white blood cell) that develop in the thymus gland (hence the name). Born from stem cells in bone marrow, they help protect the body from infection.
But T-cells can’t always differentiate between destructive and nourishing cells, allowing some cancerous cells to fall through the cracks.
Scientists are working to improve this system through various immunotherapies, including CAR-T—a specialized treatment that targets only a few types of cancer and has not been successful for solid tumors.
New TCR on the Block
Conventional T-cells scan other cells looking for anomalies; the system recognizes small parts of cellular proteins bound to surface-level molecules called human leukocyte antigen (HLA).
Annoyingly, HLA varies between individuals, preventing scientists from creating a single T-cell-based treatment to target most cancers.
Enter Cardiff’s unique TCR—able to recognize a range of cancers via the single HLA-like molecule MR1.
Show and Tell
Early experiments show the new, as-yet-unnamed TCR can kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney, and cervical cancer cells. A germ of all trades, if you will.
Lead study author Andrew Sewell, an expert in T-cells from Cardiff University, said it is “highly unusual” to find a TCR with such broad cancer specificity, raising the prospect of “universal” therapy.
“Current TCR-based therapies can only be used in a minority of patients with a minority of cancers,” he explained. “We hope this new TCR may provide us with a different route to target and destroy a wide range of cancers in all individuals.”
When injected into cancerous mice bearing a human immune system, the MR1-spotting T-cells showed “encouraging” cancer-clearing results.
The team also showed that modified T-cells of melanoma patients destroyed not only their cancer cells but those of other patients’ in the lab, regardless of HLA type.
“Cancer-targeting via MR1-restricted T-cells is an exciting new frontier,” Sewell said. “Previously nobody believed this could be possible.”
Professor Andrew Sewell with research fellow Garry Dolton (Photo: Cardiff University)
What’s next? Experiments are underway to determine exactly how the new TCR distinguishes between healthy cells and cancer. Researchers suspect it may involve changes in cellular metabolism.
The Cardiff group hopes to trial their new approach in patients later this year, following further safety testing.
“There are plenty of hurdles to overcome,” Sewell admitted. “However, if this testing is successful, then I would hope this new treatment could be in use in patients in a few years.”
A Renewable Source of Cancer-Fighting T-Cells
Last year, UCLA researchers developed a technique for turning pluripotent stem cells (capable of giving rise to every cell type in the body) into cancer-killing T-cells.
The approach uses artificial thymic organoids to mimic the thymus and produce T-cells without needing to collect them from already-depleted patients.
And, when combined with gene editing, it could allow scientists to generate a virtually unlimited supply of T-cells for large-scale treatment.
How does this new TCR work?
Conventional T-cells scan the surface of other cells to find anomalies and eliminate cancerous cells – which express abnormal proteins – but ignore cells that contain only “normal” proteins.
How does the new T-cell work?
The scanning system recognizes small parts of cellular proteins that are bound to cell-surface molecules called human leukocyte antigen (HLA), allowing killer T-cells to see what’s occurring inside cells by scanning their surface. HLA varies widely between individuals, which has previously prevented scientists from creating a single T-cell-based treatment that targets most cancers in all people. But the Cardiff study, published today in Nature Immunology, describes a unique TCR that can recognize many types of cancer via a single HLA-like molecule called MR1. Unlike HLA, MR1 does not vary in the human population – meaning it is a hugely attractive new target for immunotherapies.
Ozone is a colorless gas made up of three oxygen atoms. It is used as an alternative therapy to improve the body’s intake and use of oxygen and to activate the immune system. In medicine, ozone therapy is used to disinfect and treat diseases by limiting the effects of bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, and protozoa. Some researchers believe that ozone has therapeutic effects and the therapy has been studied and used for over 150 years. Using gas as a medical treatment is unusual, so there are special techniques that are employed. Ozone can also be toxic when inhaled.
Iran, and more specifically Tehran, has now become capital in the field of cosmetic surgeries in the world, especially in nose jobs. In 2017, Iran’s medical tourism sector estimated worth was about 1.7 billion US dollars, which is expected to grow to 4 billion US dollars by 2020. Iran’s medical tourists are of two types: Some are travelers coming from neighbor countries; namely Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Oman, and Afghanistan. This group is usually seeking both lifesaving treatments and cosmetic surgeries such as ophthalmology, infertility treatment, open heart surgery, spine surgery, and organ transplant. Iran also has medical tourists visiting from more developed countries who are mostly looking for cosmetic, life-altering procedures including but not limited to the highly popular rhinoplasty, bariatric surgery, plastic surgery, hair transplantation, breast surgery, and gastric sleeves or bypasses. A key factor in choosing Iran between these groups is the Iranian surgeons’ high experience and proficiency in the field.
Iran is quickly becoming the next international medical tourism hub, both for medicinal and cosmetic procedures. Reasons for the country becoming the popular destination that it ranges from the low costs to the skilled hands of the Iranian doctors and surgeons.
Years of sanctions resulting in inflation has been drastically decreasing the value of Iran’s currency compared to the dollar and Euro. This itself has rendered all expenses virtually ridiculous and nonexistent for travelers possessing such currencies. For example, a rhinoplasty all-inclusive package in Iran is approximately 90% cheaper than the surgery in the U.S; you can a high-quality full nose job package in Tehran with $1,800 to $2,800 while just the surgery cost $5,000 to $30,000 in NYC or LA.
A medical job is the most sought-after career choice among Iranian people. The enthusiasm in the field has led to hospitals and clinics constantly seeking to improve their facilities and to provide both their staff and their patients with state-of-the-art technologies. There are now specialized hospitals that have been granted the license to admit international patients in the country’s biggest cities, competing with each other to bring in the most up-to-date equipment available worldwide.
Talented and Experienced Surgeons
Most medical professionals in Iran get their medical degrees from renowned medical schools in the U.S., Europe, and Iran and after having years of vigorous training they are faced with a vast market. There is a running beauty obsession in Iran due to the country’s high standards and media advertisements. The added population of medical tourists to Iranians, who are already in constant demand for various cosmetic and other surgeries and procedures, offers Iranian doctors the chance to master their skills like no other ones in the world.
Quick and Accessible Services
One of the driving factors for medical tourists is the fast provision of services meeting their needs. As a medical tourist, you will never have to go through the hustle and bustle of a waiting list and finding the right doctor and the right hospital: everything you might need has already been provided for you before you even reach your destination. As a medical tourist in Iran, you will also be considered a VIP patient and given a private room in the special ward most hospitals have designated for tourists.
Traditional and Alternative Methods
Iran has a long history of traditional medical practices coupled with a generous landscape. Many of the traditional herbal treatments are still an inseparable part of Iranians’ everyday life. Iran is also a land of Hot Springs, volcanic mud, and mineral springs, with many medical resorts built around them to facilitate the use of their benefits for those interested.
Rich History and Mesmerizing Landscape
A prominent aspect of medical tourism is its combining of medicine and tourism. A medical tourist in Iran can enjoy all the perks of any other traveler. The first historical and urban settlement in Iran dates back to 4000 BC, and since then this country has hosted many rulers and dynasties, the relics of which still visible in every part of the land. Also, Iran’s unique and varied natural sites are a must-see for anyone interested in a wholesome vacation in nature.
Iran’s government has also been supporting the field after realizing its potential as revenue for boosting the country’s economy, granting about 200 hospitals IPD (International Patients Department) permits. The country has also embarked on a visa waiver program, easing what used to be a tedious process of obtaining a visa.
Due to all the benefits of Iranian medicine, many people travel to Iran for cosmetic or medical surgery. As a medical traveler, You may need a long trip if you set up your itinerary in person. While you can provide medical travel arrangements from your own country with the help of a medical tourism facilitator (IranMedTour). By sending your medical information and medical records, the company’s experts will provide this information to experienced physicians confidentially and will provide you with the necessary advice. The company determines the initial cost of your treatment and the length of your stay in Iran and will provide visa and booking arrangements for your flight and hotel if you secure your trip. This way, in addition to saving you money, your length of stay in Iran will be greatly reduced, and then visiting Iran will be the experts of the company that will follow your treatment process.